Sussex County jury listens to penalty arguments in Spicer murder case

The defense for convicted cop-killer Derrick Powell will try to show why his upbringing and experiences early in life impaired his thinking and judgment.  The Georgetown community, meanwhile, gets its first opportunity in court to talk about the impact of Chad Spicer’s murder. 


The same jury that convicted Powell of murder on February 8th reassembled Monday at the Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown for the beginning of the penalty phase.  Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Powell.  The only other possible sentence is life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole.

Defense attorney Dean Johnson said the death penalty is meant to be reserved for “the worst of the worst.”  He said jururs will hear “a very unpleasant story,” starting with Powell’s upbringing in Cumberland Maryland, abuse at the hands of his father and mother, and a series of school expulsions beginning in kindergarten.

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Johnson described a decline in Powell’s IQ as it was tested over the years, and said Powell had sustained blunt-force trauma to one side of his head, apparently lost oxygen at birth, and was subject to a dysfunctional family background of physical violence and emotional negiect that impaired his cognitive function and overall development of his brain. 

Describing Powell as “almost a train wreck waiting to happen,” Johnson said he planned to present these mitigating factors to persuade the jury “he’s damaged… let him live.”

Chad Spicer’s mother, Ruth Ann Spicer, was the first prosecution witness.  Under questioning from prosecutor Paula Ryan, Mrs. Spicer talked about Chad Spicer’s upbringing in Georgetown and his prior jobs in law enforcement with the Department of Correction and local police departments in Bridgeville and Laurel.  “Chad wanted to serve his community.  He was always willing to lend a hand to anyone,” she said. 

Slides of family photos were displayed for the court, and Mrs. Spicer read from a letter Chad Spicer sent to his parents expressing his love and thanks for supporting him as he went about obtaining custody of his daughter Aubrey, who is now six years old. 

“The loss of Chad completely changed our lives.  We’ll never be the same because we don’t have that person to comford us,” she said. 

“We will miss him so much.”

Aubrey Spicer now lives with Mrs. Spicer and her husband Norman. 

Georgetown Police Corporal Shawn Brittingham, who was wounded in the neck by the same bullet that took his partner’s life, said he had known Chad Spicer since grade school.  They pursued scheduling their shifts together, and spent a lot of their time off together as well, going to the beach with their families or fishing. 

“On work and off, we were best friends,” Brittingham said, adding that Spicer’s death left a big void and that he is missed every day.

Georgetown Police Chief William Topping read from a prepared statement, part of which said “Chad was the embodiment of this town”, and that “the town loved him back.”

“He was kind when kindness was needed, but firm when he had to be,” Topping said.

The chief said the death of Chad Spicer caused the police force to become a “fragmented” group, and that there was a loss of cohesion.

“We will never be the same again,” Topping said.  “That single bullet pierced us all, and that wound will never heal.”

A state police High Technology Crimes Unit also was called to the stand, and the jury was shown a photo he had downloaded from Powell’s MySpace account showing Powell posing in a bedroom with a semi-automatic handgun on the dresser nearby.  Another prosecution witness detailed Powell’s history of failing drug tests while on probation in Maryland for a previous drug offense.  According to the case records, Powell told his probation officer he used marijuana because of his family situation to relieve stress, and admitted he could not “stay clean.”

Two former students at Frostburg State University in Maryland identified Powell as being part of a group of men who came into their apartment in April of 2009 to carry out a robbery.  According to one of the students, Powell held an handgun to his forehead before they left with stolen items.

An Allegheny County Maryland investigator said a warrant for Powell’s arrest was still active on September 1st 2009, when Chad Spicer was killed.

Testimony in the penalty phase continues Tuesday before Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves.

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