Saratoga County

Man defends boat purchase at murder trial

Warren Powell never mentioned to investigators that he purchased a boat the day his wife disappeared

Warren Powell never mentioned to investigators that he purchased a boat the day his wife disappeared, not because he didn’t want investigators to know about it but because he didn’t want his father to know, Powell testified Wednesday.

Prosecutors have made much of Powell’s omission to investigators, who at the time were trying to find his missing wife, Rotterdam native Mary Ann Powell.

His father, Powell testified at his murder trial, had a habit of borrowing money and not paying it back. His father was also a boater.

Powell said his father would want to borrow the boat, and it would be expensive to register. He’d also bought it as an investment.

Then there was the matter of the purchase; Powell bought it with $800 cash.

“I didn’t want him to know I had ready cash to purchase $800 items,” Powell said under questioning by his attorney, Steve Coffey. “He borrowed money without paying it back.”

Powell also denied any involvement in his wife’s disappearance.

Powell was asked repeatedly by investigators what he did that day, Oct. 1, 1994, but he never mentioned buying the boat. It was only after investigators checked his phone records that they discovered the boat purchase. He also purchased a tow hitch that afternoon, something he also failed to tell investigators.

Powell is standing trial for his wife’s 1994 murder. Her decomposing body was found nearly two years later, stuffed in a hockey bag on the banks of the Hudson River in Columbia County. Powell’s parents lived in Columbia County, and he spent much time there.

Prosecutors allege that it was Powell who killed his wife that day and dumped her body in the Hudson River using his newly purchased boat. He then hid the boat and even attempted to scratch off its identifying numbers, they say.

Also, prosecutors have alleged that scratches on the boat match ones found on the hockey bag in which Mary Ann Powell’s body was found.

But prosecutor H. Neal Conolly zeroed in on Powell’s explanation, an explanation he has apparently never testified about.

This is Powell’s second trial for his wife’s murder. He was convicted in 1997 in a trial in which he also testified, but the conviction was overturned on appeal because of a jury issue. Gazette newspaper records of his testimony then include no reference to Powell’s father or to the father borrowing money.

Conolly repeatedly emphasized that in the first days of October 1994, Powell’s wife was missing and she was six months pregnant with their child. Investigators, and presumably Powell, were trying to do everything they could to find her, retrace their last moments together and the moments after. Conolly questioned why Powell didn’t tell them about the boat.

“You come in here to court today, 141⁄2 years later, and you say that the reason you didn’t tell [investigators] is because you were afraid your father would hit you up for $40 or $60?” Conolly asked.

“In part, yes,” Powell responded.

“So we’re to understand that 40 to 60 bucks is more important than finding your wife, whom you were already alarmed about losing, isn’t that so, Mr. Powell?” Conolly asked.

Powell responded that it wasn’t.

Powell, now 38, is standing trial in Columbia County Court on a charge of second-degree murder, accused of killing his 21-year-old wife. Powell has been serving time in prison on unrelated drug convictions.

It wasn’t until 1996 that Mary Ann Powell’s body was discovered in the Hudson River in Columbia County. The couple lived in Halfmoon. Warren Powell was also a former Schenectady resident.

Authorities believe that Mary Ann Powell was killed in Saratoga County, but the discovery of the body in Columbia County gave that county jurisdiction to prosecute, officials said, which is why the trial is under way here.

Much of Powell’s other testimony Wednesday retraced ground covered in his first trial.

He told of how they met in 1991. She was a student at Schenectady County Community College and he was a student at Hudson Valley Community College. A mutual friend introduced them. They were married the next year.

But the relationship had been rocky. Arguments the first year led to a recommitment ceremony the following year. Mary Ann Powell had also gotten pregnant early, but that pregnancy had been aborted, something Powell said soured his relationship with Mary Ann’s family.

But this pregnancy was one they were both looking forward to. They were excited about it.

They had an argument that morning, Oct. 1, 1994, something he termed “a disagreement,” over several topics. Investigators testified earlier that during interviews Powell’s characterization was different: they said he said then that the arguments were the worst they’d had.

Powell also downplayed the topics of the argument. The couple had five cats, Mary Ann’s. With the baby coming, they would have to lower that to one or none. The baby’s name, which investigators had quoted Powell as being distraught over, was something they’d agreed to.

The baby, who was going to be a boy, would be named Steve after Stephen Brody of Schenectady, a “friend of ours.” Investigators testified that Powell described Brody as Mary Ann’s former boyfriend and that he told them he’d been upset about the name choice.

By the early afternoon, any argument was over and Powell left for Columbia County to see his family and look at the boat, he said.

Coffey asked what he remembered of Mary Ann when he left.

“I recollect her in the apartment,” Powell said. “I have a recollection of her still laying down, in the bed, still in the apartment.”

Conolly returned to those moments that afternoon, asking Powell to recount exactly what he did between 11:30 a.m., the time Mary Ann was last seen by someone other than her husband, and 2 p.m., the time Powell made the call inquiring about the boat.

He was in the apartment, Powell testified, and he “would have” been watching TV with a cat.

Conolly wanted more.

“This is the last time you saw your wife: could you be more specific about what you were doing?” Conolly asked.

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t,” Powell responded.

When he returned late that evening, she wasn’t there. Powell’s mother, Roxanne Powell, testified Wednesday morning that she saw her son at about 3:30 p.m. that day and then again when he returned to her Columbia County home at around 8:30 p.m. She knew the second time because it was about halfway through the TV show “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Roxanne Powell also testified that her son appeared normal throughout her contacts with him that day.

Coffey also touched on Powell’s lengthy interrogations by police. He was questioned three times over a total of 30 hours.

Coffey has argued that investigators zeroed in on Powell at the expense of other suspects. Investigators have said they looked at everything.

Investigators, Powell testified, implied from the start that he killed his wife, hounding him for a confession he never gave.

Powell is also serving a 15-to-30-year prison sentence on a drug conviction. An undercover state police investigator befriended him, and it was that investigator who suggested that he use drugs, Powell claimed.

Prosecutors have also hammered home how long it took Powell to report his wife missing. He didn’t report her missing for three days.

Powell said he went to work the next day at his plumbing job. He was gone most of the day, returning home briefly late that night. It appeared that someone had been home, he said, and the cats appeared to have been picked up after.

By Monday night, Oct. 3, and another day at work, he knew something was wrong, he testified. The apartment was exactly as he’d left it.

He said he had called home Sunday, Oct. 2, and there’d been no answer. But that wouldn’t have been unusual, he said.

It wasn’t until the evening of Oct. 3, after he had returned home, that he contacted Mary Ann’s parents to see if they’d seen her. It wasn’t until the next evening, Oct. 4, that he finally reported her missing.

Conolly asked a series of questions he knew the answer to: On Saturday night, whom did Powell call about his concerns over his missing, six-months-pregnant wife?

Sunday, whom did he call?

Monday morning?

“I didn’t call anyone,” Powell responded.

Closing arguments could be as early as today.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply