Parents give emotional testimony for their son’s life

Derrick Powell, convicted of murdering a Georgetown police officer and now on trial for his life, is loved and missed according to his parents and other relatives who took the stand during the penalty phase of his case.  The witnesses, and Powell himself, were brought to tears by what happened in his past – and what could happen in his future. 

Tina Durham, Derrick Powell’s mother, told the jury in Sussex County Superior Court about meeting Joseph Powell in high school in Cumberland, Maryland.  They did not get married, but had two children.  The second one, Derrick, was born in 1987 six weeks early.

Ms. Durham said it was difficult to get Derrick to go to sleep as a baby, and as early as age one he began to push boundaries.  During this, she and Joseph Powell often fought and used marijuana.  Ms. Durham also said Joseph Powell used cocaine, and that they sold the drug “to fuel his habit.”

Ms. Durham said Derrick Powell was verbally abused and sometimes physically abused by the two of them, and that police and social workers visited their home for several complaints.  Derrick Powell’s school troubles began in kindergarten, according to Ms. Durham.  The boy was evaluated in the first grade, but Ms. Durham testified that Joseph Powell would not allow their son to be placed on medication to treat attention deficit disorder.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Ms. Durham herself was charged with child abuse after biting Derrick Powell when he was eight years old as he struggled to get him to bathe.  She said Derrick had bitten her finger hard and refused to let go.

Her son started to do better in school, but she and Joseph Powell separated and he reverted to his previous behavior.  Still, Ms. Durham testified that Mr. Powell refused to allow counselors to intervene.

Derrick Powell dropped out of school at age 15 or 16 and began to smoke marijuana, according to Ms. Durham.  She said Derrick never worked at the same thing for more than a couple of months, and only did odd jobs.  “He never liked being told what to do,” Ms. Durham said.

Joseph Powell also testified about his stormy history with Tina Durham and the difficulty in dealing with Derrick Powell.  “I don’t think we had any dishes left to get broken,” he said.  Mr. Powell described himself as “Mr. Mom,” while “she went out and partied.”

Mr. Powell admitted to making a big mistake in allowing Tina Durham to take back Derrick Powell even after the abuse incident.  He said Derrick was rebellious when Mr. Powell married another woman, who was only seven or eight years older than Derrick.  Also, Mr. Powell said his son was deeply affected by the passing of his grandmother.

Mr. Powell testified that his biggest mistake was not allowing his son to be properly diagnosed and treated.  He said he did not want Derrick to be placed on any medication, however beneficial, because of his own past drug use.  Mr. Powell gave Derrick medication only to comply with school directives, and withheld medication at night and during the summer months.  He also discussed an incident at one school during which he arrived to find administrators pinning his son to the steps and that his face was blue.  Also, Mr. Powell said he was “tricked” into allowing his son to drop out, saying they never got the proper guidance about how to get him to obtain a GED.

The jury convicted the 24-year-old Powell last week for firing the shot that killed Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer on September 1st, 2009.  Powell faces two possible sentences:  the death penalty, or life in prison without probation or parole.

Each of his parents, and several other defense witnesses, were asked a variation of the question:  how would they be affected if Derrick Powell was no longer in their lives?

Mrs. Durham:  “I love him.  He’s my son… I’d do anything for him.  We love him and we miss him.”

Mr. Powell:  (after sobbing for several moments) “I am a better father because of him… I am a better person because of him.  I love my son.  I love my son.  He’s everything to me.”

19-year-old Nakota Durham, sister:  “He’s my brother and I love him.”

25-year-old Jessica Durham, sister:  “I felt like I had to look after him…he’s my best friend… he was always there for me when I needed him.”

The penalty phase enters its fourth day Thursday.


WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal