Will Derrick Powell get the death penalty, or life in prison?

A divided jury in Sussex County recommends the death penalty for Derrick Powell following his conviction for the murder of Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer.  What is the judge likely to decide? 

Selection of the jury began January 3rd in Georgetown, mere blocks from where Spicer was gunned down on September 1st 2009.  Testimony focused on the events leading up to the deadly shooting, which followed the attempted robbery of a drug dealer at a nearby fast-food restaurant.

Two people who participated in the robbery attempt took the stand during the trial.  One of them said Powell fired the shot from the back seat of the getaway car into the Georgetown patrol car.  Spicer was struck, and another officer was also wounded by the same bullet.

The verdict on February 8th was guilty for one of the capital-eligible counts, leading to a penalty phase that would determine whether the 24-year-old Powell would be executed, or spend the rest of his life in prison without the eligibility of probation or parole.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Calling the jury the “conscience of the community,” prosecutor Martin Cosgrove summed up the state’s case for death by lethal injection.  The shooting “took a son of Georgetown,” Cosgrove told the court.

Defense attorney Stephanie Tsantes posed the question: “Why is this life important?”

Powell was abused by both parents as a youngster growing up in Cumberland, Maryland.  He smoked marijuana as young as age seven.  The school system and the child protection system maintained hundreds of pages of records dealing with Powell, his family, various incidents and recommendations for treatment and medication.

Derrick Powell, Tsantes said, still offers “a glimmer of hope” for his family.  “Is Mr. Powell so devoid of any humanity that he should face the death penalty?”

February 23rd, the panel came back with its decision.  Seven jurors felt aggravating circumstances for the death penalty outweighed mitigating factors.  Five believed that there was more of an argument for a life sentence.

The state’s death penalty statute requires that a jury’s recommendation be given “great weight” when a judge determines the ultimate sentence.

Judge T. Henley Graves will sentence Powell on May 20th.  He appeared to recognize the burden before him when he told the jury “a case such as this is as hard as it gets.”

Chad Spicer’s mother Ruth Ann Spicer was asked on the day of the jury’s 7-5 vote if she favored capital punishment in the case.

“I’d rather not say,” Mrs. Spicer said.  “We are just satisfied that justice was served.”

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