HUDSON—A senior State Police investigator who spent more than 30 hours talking with Warren Powell took the stand this week in Mr. Powell’s murder retrial and recounted allegedly incriminating and contradictory statements the defendant made to him more than a decade ago.
Mr. Powell, 38, is charged with second degree murder in the death of his wife on or about October 1, 1994. The body of Mary Ann (Tasick) Powell, 21, who was six months pregnant at the time of her death, was discovered in the Hudson River May 25, 1996 by campers hiking near Gay’s Point in Stockport. She was strangled to death and stuffed in a hockey bag weighed with rocks.
Mr. Powell was convicted of her murder but a state appeals court later overturned the conviction. He remains in prison on drug charges unrelated to the murder.
James D. Horton, a former State Police senior investigator with the Troop G Major Crimes Unit, first interviewed Mr. Powell October 9, 1994, 8 days after Mrs. Powell went missing. The interview, which was the first of three lengthy sessions, lasted eight hours. None of the sessions was recorded.
Now assistant director of the state Office of Homeland Security, Mr. Horton gave his testimony in Columbia County Court Thursday, April 9, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney David Costanzo, who is prosecuting the case along with H. Neal Conolly. The former senior investigator said that he asked Mr. Powell to tell him everything he did in detail starting the day before Mrs. Powell disappeared. He told Mr. Powell the information would help State Police find his missing wife.
During the course of the interview Mr. Powell allegedly told the investigator that he and his wife argued frequently, but on October 1, 1994 they had their “most severe argument” ever, said Mr. Horton. Mr. Powell reportedly said that they argued about domestic issues like the number of cats they had, her smoking, his recent speeding ticket, the time he spent at his parents’ house in Valatie and the name they would give their first child.
Asked by the investigator who usually won their arguments, the investigator said Mr. Powell told him he always won.
Mr. Horton said Mr. Powell told him that that after he left the apartment that afternoon he went to his grandmother’s residence, backed his Toyota pickup into her garage and worked on his bumper. When the investigator asked what kind of work he did on the bumper, Mr. Powell reportedly changed his account and said he did nothing to the bumper.
Mr. Powell allegedly said he went to Mario’s True Value Home Center in Valatie, where he purchased a work jacket and nothing else. But police later learned that Mr. Powell also bought a ball hitch, which was attached to the rear bumper of his truck so he could tow the boat and trailer he also purchased that day.
The purchase of the boat and trailer was not mentioned by Mr. Powell in any of the interviews he had with the investigator, and it wasn’t until police obtained records from the Powells’ phone, that they learned a call had been made on the day of Mrs. Powell’s disappearance to Michael Smith of Kinderhook.
Mr. Smith has said under oath that he sold Mr. Powell a 12-foot aluminum boat and homemade trailer for $800 October 1, 1994. The boat also came with a 9-hp motor, a gas can, ropes and an anchor.
After his visit to Mario’s, Mr. Powell reportedly said he spent three hours that afternoon checking the lawns of people who paid him to mow, but Mr. Horton said Mr. Powell could not tell him how many lawns he checked or whose lawns they were. The investigator said he found it odd that Mr. Powell was checking lawns in October, when the grass had probably stopped growing and that he did not take any of his mowing equipment with him.
After returning home to his Halfmoon apartment at 9:30 that night Mr. Powell took no steps to locate his missing wife. He didn’t call anyone or talk to his neighbors to try to find out where his wife might be, said the investigator.
Mr. Powell said he watched TV and slept on the couch. The investigator then asked him why he didn’t go to bed and Mr. Powell told him he “never slept in that bed again.”
In addition to the first, 8-hour interview, Sr. Inv. Horton conducted an 11-hour interview with Mr. Powell October 19, 1994, and a 15-hour interview with him on March 17, 1995, when Mr. Powell was brought in on a reckless endangerment charge in connection with an alleged road rage incident.
During the final interview, Mr. Horton said that he placed several maps in front of Mr. Powell, asking him to point to where his wife might be found. According to the former investigator, Mr. Powell told him that though he could have helped the investigator a week ago, he could not help him now. So Mr. Horton asked Mr. Powell if had recently moved his wife’s body. He said Mr. Powell did not reply.
Near the end of the March interview, Mr. Horton said Mr. Powell told him he “needed help, but no one could help him now.”
The former investigator said he responded by saying, “You have been through a lot, you killed your wife and you are going through a living hell, isn’t that right?” and that Mr. Powell replied, Yes.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Stephen Coffey, Mr. Horton said though he thought Mr. Powell’s answer to his question was significant, he did not take it to mean that he had killed his wife.
It was a compound question, Mr. Horton said, and Mr. Powell gave one answer. If he had believed it was a confession, Mr. Horton said he would have taken a written statement from Mr. Powell, something he never did.
Mr. Coffey made the point that Mr. Horton, a senior investigator at the time, was in control of the situation and could have ordered either audio or video recording equipment to be used during his interviews with Mr. Powell. But Mr. Horton testified that recording police interviews was not policy nor was it regular procedure at the time unless specifically requested by a district attorney.
“Without a recording, we only have your word for what happened,” said the defense attorney, asking the witness whether it wasn’t “far better to have a defendant’s written statement than for an officer to testify about what [a defendant] told him.”
“My word is as good as a written statement, absolutely,” Mr. Horton replied.
Mr. Coffey asked the investigator whether he thought his testimony was better than a tape-recorded interview, and Mr. Horton said, “My word under oath? Yes, that’s correct.”
Testimony is set to resume Monday, April 13, at 1 p.m.