RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia is set to execute the first criminal under the administration of Governor Bob McDonnell. Paul Warner Powell is set to be put to death by electric chair tonight at 9 p.m. Governor McDonnell has already informed Powell that he will not grant his clemency request.
Joining us to discuss why Powell thought he deserved to be taken off death row is our legal expert Steve Benjamin.
Q: This is unique when it comes to this governor's last way to offer clemency right up to the last moment.
A: That's right. Ordinarily when we here talking about an imminent execution, we have two things we're waiting on. Number 1, the final word from the governor, which will come shortly before the scheduled execution, and the pendency of any last minute appeal at the United States Supreme Court. Right now, we're not waiting on anything. Governor McDonnell has announced already that he is not going to award clemency, although the phone line will remain open, because he still retains that power, but he's indicated that he's not going to step in, and there's nothing pending in the courts. So what we know as we stand here now is this execution will proceed. There is also in this case no claim of innocence. Sometimes there is that somewhat troubling aspect that is still in the pendency before an execution, but no one has ever claimed any.
Q: Even the defense attorneys have admitted?
A: That's right. There is no doubt he was guilty of murder of one and the attempted murder of another.
Q: There's some confusion, not necessarily in his guilt or innocence but the way he was prosecuted and the way the jury received all the information. Explain that.
A: Despite the fact that, yes, he is guilty, a separate question is the priority of the death sentence, and the one question that really is a fairly significant question is this; the jury, when they were deciding whether to impose the death penalty, were given computer printout of his criminal history and that printout incorrectly said he had been convicted of capital murder before. That would ordinarily be a very significant issue that you would expect the court to look at, but the courts have declined to review that question in this case. And I suspect that the reason is because anyone look can at this, certainly a reviewing court could conclude that the circumstances of the offense -- I mean, this was evil, this was as bad as it gets -- were what got him the death penalty.
Q: Not only do we know definitively that Powell was guilty of these crimes, but he actually bragged about it in a letter to the commonwealth's attorney.
A: Absolutely right, you got the circumstances of the offense. The awful, heinous, evil circumstances of the offense, and then once he escapes the death penalty, bragging about it, bragging about that he tried to do more than he actually did. Any jury considering that, any appellate court reviewing the record could conclude that the death sentence was imposed because of those circumstances and the others didn't play a role.
See the video at right for the full interview.