Powell sentenced to death in Spicer killing
On Friday, May 20, Delaware Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves sentenced 24-year-old Derrick Powell to death, nearly three months after Powell was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer on Sept. 1, 2009.
Approximately 100 people were in the gallery to witness the sentence being handed down, including Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, Georgetown Police Chief William Topping and Spicer’s parents, Norman and RuthAnn Spicer.
On Feb. 23, a jury voted 7-5 in favor of the death penalty, following the seven-week trial.
In addition to the death sentence for the murder charge, on Friday, Graves also sentenced Powell to 25 years in custody of the Delaware Department of Corrections on other charges related to the events on Sept. 1, 2009, for a total of 82 years in prison should he not be executed for the murder and instead serve a life sentence
During the penalty phase of the trial, the defense argued that Powell suffered from various disorders, such as cognitive disorder and cannabis abuse. They also argued that Powell was a victim of abuse at the hands of his parents.
“The defense has argued that a life sentence is the appropriate sentence for Derrick Powell because he is not the ‘worst of the worst,’” said Graves during the sentencing. “One must look at an individual’s path and journey. The sad fact is that too many people are raised in dysfunctional families. Most similarly situated people – although perhaps scarred by having been in a dysfunctional environment – nevertheless hold down jobs, are positively involved with their families and go about their lives without being involved in criminal activity.
“There are consequences for the decisions made in life. The sentence is death.”
Powell, who showed no reaction to the death sentence, was immediately escorted out of the courtroom while some clapping was heard from the gallery, along with muffled sobs from Powell’s family.
“The bottom line is that justice was done today,” said Biden. “Throughout this entire case, the Spicer family displayed exceptional courage, and their courage is a reflection of Chad’s courage. Tragedies like this can either bring a family or a community closer together or tear them apart. The community rallied around the Spicer family, and today Georgetown and Sussex County are stronger than ever.”
“We’re very pleased,” added Deputy Attorney General Paula Ryan, who prosecuted the case along with Martin Cosgrove.
Topping, who was Spicer’s commanding officer and friend said, “It’s kind of hard to describe the feeling when somebody is being sentenced to death, which Derrick Powell deserved. He has had a longer amount of time to contemplate what was going to happen to him than Chad Spicer had. I honestly believe that justice was served.
“The police department in Georgetown will always carry this — in our hearts in our minds, day to day, it never stops. We always think about Chad. It has profoundly affected us, our families and the people of Georgetown.”
For any death sentence handed down in Delaware, an automatic appeal is filed with the state Supreme Court. That appeal process averages around 10 years.
“Obviously, this is a very sad day for Mr. Powell,” said defense attorney Stephanie Tsantes. “The fight is not over, it’s just the beginning.”
The events of Sept. 1, 2009
On Sept. 1, 2009, multiple 911 calls were made reporting shooting at the McDonald’s in Georgetown, following an alleged botched drug deal for 4 ounces of marijuana.
“A shell casing found at that location was identified positively as having been fired from the pistol Powell possessed at the time of his arrest,” stated Graves in his “Post-Trial Defense Motion and Sentencing Decision.”
After heading to the scene that night, Georgetown police officers Chad Spicer and Shawn Brittingham began to pursue the silver Chrysler Sebring that was suspected of being involved in the shooting, in which Christopher Reeves, Luis Flores and Powell were riding. The car eventually stopped and a shot was fired, fatally wounding Spicer.
“[The bullet] was fired from the same pistol found 16 minutes later in Powell’s hands when he was arrested,” Graves noted.
Powell and Reeves fled, with Brittingham in pursuit, while Flores stayed behind and tried to aid Spicer. Upon Brittingham’s return, Flores was taken into custody. Powell was found approximately two and a half blocks away, in a house on Savannah Road, in possession of a 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
“The most important evidence was that Powell had the murder weapon in his hand at the McDonald’s attempted robbery, four minutes before Spicer was shot, and he had it in his hand immediately after the shooting, when he fled the scene. Likewise, he had it when he was arrested 16 minutes later.”
Graves went on to state that the defense’s theory of the crime – which argued that Flores was the shooter and not Powell, and which would have had the gun changing hands from Powell at the McDonald’s to Flores in the car during the time of the shooting and back to Powell immediately after, when he fled the car – was “contrary to human nature and common sense.”
The defense filed a post-trial motion to block the death penalty, citing residual doubt from the verdict – which they said was inconsistent and did not exclude the possibility that Flores was the shooter – and that there was no evidence of a reckless indifference to human life.
“The eyewitness testimony, coupled with Powell’s possession of the killing weapon four minutes prior to the Spicer shooting and immediately afterwards, lead to the inescapable conclusion that Powell was the shooter. The jury did not buy the Flores theory, nor does the Court,” Graves said.
Following approximately nine hours of deliberations in February, the jury unanimously found Powell guilty of Murder in the First Degree — of recklessly causing the death of Chad Spicer during the flight from an attempted robbery, as well as other charges.
The penalty phase
During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecution called RuthAnn Spicer to testify about her son, saying that Chad Spicer had been a loving and caring father and son.
“That’s what Chad was always about – love,” she said during her testimony.
Brittingham and Topping also testified as to Spicer’s love for his family and the community he served.
“We will never be the same again… This one criminal act has changed how the people go about their daily lives. … That single bullet pierced us all, and that wound will never truly heal,” said Topping.
The prosecution also provided evidence of Powell’s history with drugs and violence, as Powell’s former parole officer testified that Powell had no interest in seeking drug rehabilitation and would not stop abusing drugs.
Two former roommates – both Frostburg University students – testified that Powell had broken into their apartment with three other men and robbed them at gunpoint.
“‘Don’t call the police. Don’t do anything stupid. We know where you live… That’s how people get killed,’” Michael Miller recalled Powell saying to him and his roommate, adding that Powell had asked another robber if “he should put [the gun] down my throat and pull the trigger.”
Harrington resident Tykwon James testified that Powell has been staying with him before the Sept. 1 incident, and that one night, when James requested Powell clean up some dirty plate left out, Powell allegedly pulled a knife on him and chased him from the house.
The defense depicted Powell as a troubled child who was a product of an abusive home.
His mother, Tina Durham, testified that drug abuse and physical violence had occurred. She also testified that he was violent and explosive. His half-sisters also testified that Durham would be neglectful and physically violent toward the children — bribing them with new shoes and trips to McDonald’s in order to prevent them from telling others about the abuse.
The defense offered a number of witnesses who testified as to Powell’s poor mental heath.
But Graves cited that the experts did agree on one key element — that neither his mental nor cognitive disorders played a significant role in his own conduct on Sept. 1, 2009.
“Chad Spicer did not die because of any impulse problems. He died because Powell wanted to avoid arrest and get away.”
Dr. Sidney Binks testified that Powell had a cognitive disorder, which he said he believed was caused by an anoxic birth and alleged head trauma Powell sustained during his youth.
Binks based his diagnoses primarily on Powell’s declining IQ scores. At age 6, his IQ was 124, which later declined 37 points, when, at age, 23 it was measured at 87.
Dr. Thomas Swirsky-Sacchetti testified for the prosecution, stating that the drop in IQ was not due to an anoxic birth but rather Powell’s overall lack of interest and investment in his studies.
“If he had anoxia at birth and was tested six years later, he could not have had a 124 IQ,” Swirsky-Sacchetti asserted.
Ultimately, Graves found that neither Powell’s abusive upbringing nor his various mental and cognitive diagnoses mitigated the state’s evidence.
“These are disorders that or problems that are widespread in our society,” agreed Graves in his written decision. “There was no testimony that Powell did not understand and appreciate his chosen life of crime. Regardless of any reasons for the declining IQ test results, any declining IQ did not impact the events of Sept. 1, 2009.”
Currently there are 19 inmates on death row in the state of Delaware, all men convicted of first-degree murder. The last time the state executed someone was in 2005. That execution led to a lawsuit that put all Delaware executions on hold until a ruling in 2010 declared Delaware’s lethal-injection protocols were legal.