GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — A defense attorney for a Maryland man convicted of murdering a Georgetown police officer told a Sussex County jury on Monday that the killer is the product of a troubled and violent childhood who does not deserve the death penalty.
The jury, which last week convicted Derrick Powell of Cumberland, Md., in the September 2009 shooting of Chad Spicer, returned Monday for the beginning of the penalty phase of the trial.
Powell, convicted of felony murder, faces either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In his opening statement Monday, defense attorney Dean Johnson outlined Powell’s troubled upbringing by “dysfunctional” parents who abused drugs and physically abused Powell and his siblings, even facing criminal charges for their treatment of Powell.
“Derrick’s early life was so bad he was expelled from kindergarten,” Johnson said, adding that Powell’s intelligence, measured as superior when he was six years old, devolved steadily over the years to a current IQ of 87, below normal.
“It’s difficult to maintain your education when you’re in and out of school all the time,” said Johnson, telling jurors that abnormalities in Powell’s brain may have been caused by head trauma when he was young, or to a lack of oxygen at birth.
Johnson said Powell, whom he described as a “brain-damaged young man,” does not deserve the death penalty, which he said should be reserved for “the worst of the worst.”
“This is not the worst of the worst,” Johnson said. “He’s damaged. Let him live.”
But prosecutor Paula Ryan said the state would present evidence of several aggravating factors that merit the death penalty. Those factors include Powell’s prior criminal record, his history of using drugs and firearms, and the impact of Spicer’s death on his family and friends.
Spicer was shot in the face as he sat in the passenger seat of a police cruiser following the pursuit of a car carrying Powell and two other men. The pursuit began after Powell shot at a drug dealer he was trying to rob in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.
Among the aggravating factors being used by prosecutors in arguing for the death penalty are two specifically spelled out in state law. One is that Powell killed Spicer while involved in another felony. The other is that he killed Spicer in an attempt to avoid being captured or arrested.
The first witness called by prosecutors was Ruth Ann Spicer, who said her son’s death has had a devastating impact on his 5-year-old daughter, Aubrey, as well as the rest of the family.
The testimony from Ruth Ann Spicer, who recounted how the family told Aubrey the day after the shooting that her father “had gone to heaven and that he would not be back for a long time,” left many in the courtroom fighting back tears, including jurors and Ryan, the prosecutor.
Georgetown police chief William Topping took the stand to read a prepared statement in which he said Spicer’s death has devastated the police department.
“My officers used to be a close-knit bunch of people… We are now a fragmented group that go off in our own directions,” Topping said. “That single bullet pierced us all, and that wound will never heal.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)