GEORGETOWN, Del. — A Maryland man convicted of killing a Delaware police officer in 2009 was sentenced to death Friday by a judge who described him as a dangerous career criminal.
Derrick Powell of Cumberland, Md., hung his head but said nothing after Judge. T. Henley Graves imposed the death penalty for the September 2009 murder of Georgetown patrolman Chad Spicer.
Spicer was struck in the face by a single bullet 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, jurors were told.
Graves rejected defense arguments that Powell, 24, should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because he was not the “worst of the worst,” but the product of an abusive and dysfunctional childhood home.
Graves said there was nothing in the evidence to suggest that Powell was taught to be “a career criminal” or “involved in a drug-selling, gun-carrying world.”
“The sad fact is that too many people are raised in dysfunctional families,” Graves said, adding that most do not devote themselves to a life of crime.
“Mr. Powell did what exactly what he wanted to do, regardless of the consequences,” said the judge, noting that Powell began selling drugs “at a very early age,” then turned to robbery and more violent crimes.
“He is explosive. He is violent. He is a dangerous person,” Graves said, adding that “there are consequences to decisions made in life.”
After reviewing all the evidence and the jury’s 7-5 recommendation that Powell be executed, Graves said he concluded that the aggravating circumstances favoring the death penalty outweighed the mitigating circumstances favoring life without parole.
“The sentence, therefore, must be death,” the judge said, as soft applause from the supporters of Spicer’s family mixed with sobbing from Powell’s mother and stepmother.
“Killing our brother is not going to bring him back,” a young woman shouted outside the courthouse as she got into an SUV with a Maryland license plate.
As they left the courthouse accompanied by Attorney General Beau Biden, Spicer’s parents, Norman and Ruth Ann Spicer, said simply that “justice was served.”
Defense attorney Stephanie Tsantes said she hoped that the Delaware Supreme Court, on appeal, would find a reason to overturn Powell’s death sentence.
“The fight is not over; it’s just beginning,” Tsantes said after meeting with Powell following the sentencing.
“He’s keeping a brave face…. I think his concern is for his family,” she said.
Powell, who also was sentenced to 82 years in prison for attempted robbery and other crimes linked to Spicer’s death, joins 18 other inmates awaiting execution in Delaware. The state’s last execution was in 2005
Georgetown police chief William Topping said Spicer’s death has had a profound effect on the community and the police department, and that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for Powell.
“He has no redeeming qualities, and he has no business out here in society,” Topping said.
Police officer Shawn Brittingham, who was patrolling with Spicer on the night he was killed and driving the police cruiser that pursued Powell and the other robbery suspects, declined to comment but smiled and embraced well-wishers after the sentencing.
Defense attorneys suggested at trial that another man riding with Powell in the back seat of the car being pursued by police had fired the shot that killed Spicer. They noted that while both Powell and the other man, Luis Flores, had gunshot residue on their hands, Powell had no gunshot residue on his shirt and Flores appeared to be the major contributor of DNA on the weapon’s trigger.
Powell’s lawyers also argued that Powell was brain-damaged from the abuse he suffered as a child, presenting evidence and testimony about physical and verbal abuse by his parents and grandparents, chronic behavioral problems and violent outbursts in grade school, and diagnosed mental disorders.