HUDSON—Warren Powell is guilty of second degree murder. Again.
At 11 a.m., Friday, April 17, after about seven hours of deliberation, the jury of five men and seven women in Mr. Powell’s retrial in Columbia County Court found him guilty of slaying his wife, Mary Ann (Tasick) Powell, on or about October 1, 1994.
The couple was living in Halfmoon, Saratoga County, at the time and Mrs. Powell, then 21, was six-months pregnant. Her decomposed 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 down with rocks.
Mr. Powell, 38, a Valatie native, was previously convicted of the crime in August 1997. He won an appeal of that conviction in December 2004 due to the judge’s error during jury selection.
Mr. Powell showed no emotion when the verdict was read, though Barbara Tasick, Mary Ann’s mother and Warren’s former mother-in-law wept openly as members of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, Loudonville State Police and the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office gathered around her and her husband, Joseph Tasick, exchanging hugs and handshakes.
The trial lasted 11 days spread over 3 weeks beginning April 1. More than 25 witnesses testified, and 120 items were entered into evidence.
Throughout the trial, defense attorney Stephen Coffey referred to seven three-to-four-inch-thick binders containing the transcripts of the first trial, attempting to cast doubt on the accuracy of forensic evidence and the recollections of present and former State Police investigators who testified at both trials.
During his summation Thursday, Mr. Coffey repeated his theory that police manufactured evidence to support their belief in his client’s guilt. He tried to cast doubt on the idea that Mr. Powell killed his wife at their apartment, because none of the neighbors had heard a struggle. He also asked the jury to think about how Mr. Powell could have removed his wife’s body from the apartment in broad daylight without being seen.
The defense attorney also pointed to two prosecution witnesses who testified to things happening on dates that did not match the prosecution’s scenario of the crime, and he criticized the reliability of the testimony of Joseph Hutton, who had a long criminal history and is currently doing time in Florida.
Assistant District Attorney H. Neal Conolly, who prosecuted the case along with David Costanzo, addressed each point raised by Mr. Coffey, starting with the police conspiracy theory. He asked the jury to consider whether they believed that more than a dozen policemen from different agencies would agree to carry on a charade for 15 years and put their entire professional careers on the line to frame Warren Powell. If police wanted to frame him, why didn’t they just say Mr. confessed, asked the ADA.
Mr. Conolly also stressed that Mr. Powell testified that he could not say what he did during the hours between the time Mary Ann was last seen by neighbors and when he left the apartment shortly after 2 p.m. the day she disappeared. Mr. Conolly asked jurors to consider that Mrs. Powell was from Saratoga County and had no ties to Columbia County. “So how does she end up in a bag in the Hudson River in Columbia County, minutes from where Mr. Powell bought a boat and hid a boat?” he asked.
Mr. Powell, who received permission early in the trial to question a witness directly and who voluntarily took the stand to testify on his own behalf, took another unusual step at the end of the trial, making a motion himself to seek “remedy” from the court. He said State Police did not properly preserve the boat and the scuff marks on the seats as evidence. An expert witness said that the marks on the seat of Mr. Powell’s boat were most likely made by the hockey equipment bag that contained the body of Mrs. Powell.
Mr. Powell said he wanted to hire an independent consultant to evaluate marks on the seats of the boat, which played a key role in the case, but now could not because the marks had succumbed to the weather. But in a ruling based on the argument that Mr. Powell had ample time prior to his retrial to have the marks tested, Judge Nichols denied the motion.
The judge set the sentencing of Mr. Powell for June 16 at 11 a.m. Second degree murder is a class A-1 felony punishable by a minimum sentence of 15 years to life and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.
Mr. Powell is currently serving 15 to 30 years in state prison for drug sales convictions.
One sidelight of the trial unrelated to the proceedings was how the trial highlighted the lack of access to the county Courthouse for people with disabilities. The barriers created by a trial on an upper floor of a building without an elevator were glaringly apparent, and the trial was moved from the cavernous second floor main courtroom to the much smaller surrogate’s courtroom on the first floor to accommodate a witness and a reporter covering the trial who could not climb the stairs without extreme difficulty.
Judge Jonathan Nichols, the judge in the Powell retrial, called the situation “shameful” and “deplorable.”