HUDSON—The jury is now deliberating in the murder case against Warren Powell, after receiving instructions from County Judge Jonathan Nichols Thursday afternoon. But before the trial phase ended, jurors heard testimony from Mr. Powell.
Warren and Mary Ann Powell were excitedly awaiting the birth of their first child, a son, when Mary Ann mysteriously disappeared—leaving Warren to wonder without a clue what had happened to her. That’s what happened according to the testimony Mr. Powell, 38, gave when he took the stand in his own defense during his retrial for the murder of his wife Wednesday, April 15 in Columbia County Court.
A Valatie native, Mr. Powell is charged with second degree murder in the death of his wife on or about October 1, 1994. The couple was living in Halfmoon, Saratoga County, at the time and Mary Ann (Tasick) Powell, then 21, was six-months pregnant.
Her body 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 previously convicted of the crime in August 1997, but he successfully appealed that conviction in December 2004, winning a reversal based on an error made by the trial judge during jury selection.
The prosecution, conducted by Assistant District Attorney David Costanzo and H. Neal Conolly, rested when court proceedings resumed Wednesday morning. Mr. Powell took the stand around 1 p.m. following the reading into the trial record of testimony from his grandmother, the late Janet Silvernail, who took the stand during the first trial in 1997.
Mr. Powell’s mother, Roxanne Powell, who has been in court daily, preceded her son on the stand. Both Mrs. Powell’s and Mrs. Silvernail’s testimony concerned their contact with Warren October 1, 1994, the day Mary Ann went missing. Neither woman noticed anything unusual about Warren’s demeanor when they saw and talked to him that day.
Warren was his “good-natured” personable self that day, both women said.
Under questioning by his defense attorney Stephen Coffey, Mr. Powell gave a brief history of his marriage to Mary Ann. During the year that followed their initial June 1992 marriage, which neither Warren’s or Mary Ann’s parents attended, the couple had “disagreements,” but they “worked through” their problems, committed to each other anew and were remarried, this time in the Catholic Church in 1993, according to Mr. Powell.
With the guidance of his attorney, Mr. Powell then went about offering explanations for many of the seemingly incriminating statements prosecution witnesses attributed to Mr. Powell.
In some cases, Mr. Powell, soft-spoken and calm throughout, flatly denied having made the statements in question or, in the case of Donald Boyle, Mr. Powell denied ever seeing him before in his life.
Since much had been made about Mr. Powell’s failure to reveal his purchase of a 12-foot aluminum boat from Michael Smith on the day of his wife’s disappearance, Mr. Powell said that he parked the boat behind Alice Hornung’s barn and did not mention the purchase to police because he did not want his father—the late Milton Powell—to know about it.
Milton Powell often borrowed money from Warren and did not pay it back. Warren said he did not want his father to know he had cash on hand, nor did he want his father to know about the boat because he would want to borrow it.
Mr. Powell testified that he did not become “alarmed” when he returned to his Halfmoon apartment around 9:30 the night of Saturday, October 1, 1994 to find his wife missing, because she had spent the night elsewhere twice within the year and a half prior to that date, and so had he.
Mr. Powell said he did not become alarmed until Monday night, October 3, which is when he contacted both his own parents and Mary Ann’s parents to find out if they had seen Mary Ann or knew where she was.
Mr. Powell was critical of police throughout his testimony, disputing, in particular, the accounts Sr. Inv. Michael Zurlo and Sr. Inv. James Horton gave of their interviews with him.
The defendant denied ever making statements to any of the prosecution witnesses implicating himself in his wife’s disappearance or murder.
During cross-examination ADA Conolly pointed out that Mr. Powell had found fault with everyone’s testimony—even his mother’s. Yet, Mr. Powell could not recall for Mr. Conolly exactly what he did in the apartment between 11:30 a.m., when Mary Ann was last seen by neighbors getting the mail and 2 p.m. when Mr. Powell supposed left for Valatie.
The prosecution also pointed out that Mr. Powell had studied criminal justice for two years at Hudson Valley Community College and was well aware of his rights to demand a lawyer or to stop answering police questions. That led Mr. Conolly to ask Mr. Powell whether “it was all just a game for you.”
By the end of the day, Mr. Powell’s testimony was complete. Mr. Coffey indicated that he had one more witness to testify Thursday. The “exparte” witness remains known only to the judge.
The prosecution and defense delivered their summations Thursday and following instructions from the judge, the jury began its deliberations.