Warren Powell’s second conviction for strangling his pregnant wife and stuffing her body in a weighted hockey bag he dumped in the Hudson River was upheld last week after a state appeals court determined the evidence cited during his 2009 retrial had been properly introduced.
In the unanimous four-page ruling, justices with the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court found no reason to overturn the former Schenectady man’s conviction or grant a new trial based on assertions that the prosecution had failed to disclose a report submitted as evidence during his second trial. Through his public defender, Powell argued that his conviction should be overturned because Columbia County Assistant District Attorney H. Neal Conolly didn’t alert him of the expert testimony from a metallurgist he introduced during the trial.
Conolly called the metallurgist to opine on scuff marks that were observed on the aluminum seats of a boat Powell purchased on the day his wife, 21-year-old Mary Ann Powell, disappeared in 1994. The witness indicated the marks appeared consistent with the hard vinyl ridges on the bottom of the hockey bag that was later found by hikers about eight miles from Powell’s parents home in Valatie.
The justices ruled the prosecution had done its due diligence because it had disclosed the expert witness prior to the first trial and Powell had acknowledged he received his testimony.
“In the absence of any indication that material prepared by the expert had been withheld from [Powell], we find no basis to conclude that any further disclosure was required,” Justice Robert Rose wrote in the decision.
The justices also decided pictures of the scuff marks taken during the original investigation in 1996 were sufficient to show the scuff marks and that the prosecution didn’t need to produce the actual boat. Though acknowledging the scuff marks likely faded with time, they noted that the boat wasn’t offered as evidence during Powell’s second trial in 2009.
In addition, the justices ruled the Columbia County Court judge presiding over the case exercised discretion when allowing photographs of Mary Ann Powell’s badly decomposed body to be shown during the trial. They found that the pictures — including some that were cropped to exclude the deceased woman’s face — served a purpose in the prosecution’s case.
“Here, the photographs, while undeniably gruesome, were relevant in that they tended to establish the element of intent to cause death required for murder in the second degree based on the depiction of the handholds tied into the rope that was tightly wrapped around the victim’s throat,” Rose wrote in the decision.
Mary Ann Powell was six months pregnant when she vanished Oct. 1, 1994. Her body wasn’t discovered until two years later.
When investigators first questioned Powell, he told them of an argument he had with his wife and then spoke of going alone to Columbia County to visit his parents and grandparents later on the day of her disappearance. He made no mention, however, of the boat and trailer hitch he bought the afternoon of her disappearance.
Powell strangled his wife somewhere in Saratoga County. He then trussed her with rope, jammed her body in a weighted hockey bag and then dumped her in the river in Columbia County.
He was initially found guilty of second-degree murder in 1997. But in 2004, an appeals court ruled a request made by then Columbia County District Attorney Beth Cozzolino to remove a juror during the 1997 trial should not have been granted, setting the stage for the eventual retrial.