On this date in 2010, Paul Warner Powell was electrocuted in Virginia — the last human being, as of this writing, to be put to death by that method, although he is not likely to retain that distinction long-term.
However many might be yet to ride the lightning, it is doubtful that any will usurp this virulent racist’s place on dumbest-criminals lists.
Then the charmer laid in wait in the house for the return of Stacie’s 14-year-old sister, whom he raped and left (so he thought) stabbed to death in the basement. Kristie Reed survived an abdomen wound and a slashed throat.
So far, just a regular malevolent criminal.
But his fate turned on a small legal technicality followed by a monumentally foolish blunder.
Initially death-sentenced for the murder (of Stacie) aggravated by the rape (of Kristie), that sentence was vacated by the Commonwealth’s high court on the grounds that rape could only aggravate the murder into a capital crime if it was the murder victim (Stacie) who was raped. Prosecutors had not shown that.
Erroneously believing this decision to have freed him from any risk of execution thanks to double jeopardy, Powell then proceeded to scribble a lengthy jeering diatribe to his prosecutor “to show you how stupid all of y’all mother fuckers are.”
The entire very profane letter is here. Apart from its intrinsically monstrous narrative, it made this very unwise admission about how things went with the murder victim Stacie:
I told her that all I wanted to do was fuck her and then I would leave and that we could do it the easy way or the hard way.
… she got up and started fighting with me and clawed me face. We wrestled around a little and then I slammed her to the floor. When she hit the floor I sat on top of her and pinned her hands down again. She said she would fuck me and I told her that if she tried fighting with me again, I would kill her.
This freely-confessed attempted rape (it was not consummated — hence the state’s previous inability to charge it) qualified as the exact aggravating factor whose want had just enabled Powell to escape death row. And in fact, prosecutors were able
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Powell, it turned out, was an energetic correspondent.
Apart from the aforementioned lethal missive, he posted other bigoted mash notes to his prosecutor “Fat Ebert”; he sent menacing taunts to the victims’ mother Lorraine Whoberry; and he even began swapping racy billets-doux with the married forewoman of his first jury who, guilt-stricken at having sent a man to his death, started writing the murderer and wound up falling for him and testifying on his behalf at his second sentencing.
Whoberry, the mother of Stacie and Kristie and the woman whom Powell had crudely harassed by mail from prison, founded the STACIE Foundation to teach compassion for violent crime victims. Whoberry even had some compassion of her own for Powell, eventually forgiving him; the two spoke amicably by phone on the night before Powell’s execution.**
* This raises our periodic reminder to anyone who should come to be of interest in a legal investigation not to talk to the police, period.
However, it is our firm conviction that Executed Today attracts a caliber of reader who intuit the inadvisability of confessing one’s capital crimes in florid written detail.
** Forgiveness or no, Whoberry did continue to support Powell’s execution.