Derrick Powell’s mental state discussed at penalty hearing

What made Derrick Powell who he is today?  Psycholigical examinations of the 24-year-old man found guilty of killing a Georgetown police officer were detailed as the penalty phase of his trial entered its second week. 

The jury that convicted the 24-year-old Powell February 2nd for the September 2009 shooting death of officer Chad Spicer now faces the task of determining whether he should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole.  Monday in Sussex County Superior Court, panel members heard testimony from two specialists called by the defense who indicated that issues as early as Powell’s birth affected development of his brain through his younger years, teens and early adulthood.

Washington-based neuropsychologist Dr. Sidney Binks evaluated Powell for a total of eight hours in April 2010 at the Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.  Binks administered a series of tests and undertook a standard psychological interview.  He said he diagnosed Powell with a cognitive disorder, several impairments to his reading, writing and ability to control inhibition, and attention deficit disorder.

Like a previous defense witness, Dr. Binks said Powell made several statements that were very likely untrue, including that he had been arrested over 1,000 times and that he once toured Europe to sell drugs.  The doctor also made reference to a steady decline in Powell’s IQ, which was at its highest in first grade at 124.  Tests last year indicated Powell had an IQ of 87.

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Dr. Binks said Powell’s brain function and impairments are consistent with a pattern of multiple strikes to the head, as well as possible oxygen depletion at birth.  Records reviewed by the medical specialists, and previous testimony during the penalty phase, indicated that Powell was abused by both his father and mother and recalled once being knocked unconscious by his father as a teenager.  During the interviews, Dr. Binks said Powell made reference to taking knocks to the head while sparring, as in boxing.  He said Powell became very reluctant to delve further into abuse at the hands of his father.

Powell, according to Dr. Binks, had a “very tragic history,” with a background that included “multi-generational substance abuse” in the family.  He said Powell would need an extremely structured environment to function in any way.

“Would prison meet those needs?” asked defense attorney Dean Johnson

“Yes, it would,” replied Dr. Binks.

During her cross-examination, prosecutor Paula Ryan made reference to reports that Powell behaved with calmness and courtesy after he entered an occupied home in Georgetown shortly after Chad Spicer was shot.  She contrasted that behavior with reports indicating that as a youth, Powell took a long time to be calmed down after frequent outbursts.

Dr. Ruben Gur, neuropsychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed his analysis of MRI and other exams of Powell’s brain taken during 2010.  While Gur never met with Powell, he said the findings indicate that parts of Powell’s brain that deal with emotions, rational thinking, problem-solving, planning and the “ability to interpret threats” were compromised.  Such impairments, Dr. Gur said, could have resulted from blows to the head as well as issues in the womb or during birth.



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