RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of four convicted killers yesterday, including one whose sentence the court once had reversed because prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence.
The justices affirmed the death sentences of Paul Warner Powell, convicted of murder in Prince William County; Jerry Terrell Jackson, convicted in Williamsburg; Shermaine A. Johnson, convicted in Petersburg, and James Bryant Hudson, convicted in Halifax County.
Powell, 25, was convicted of murder for a second time last year for the death of Stacie Reed, 16, who was killed in her Manassas home in 1999. The conviction came after the state Supreme Court reversed an earlier death sentence for Powell, saying prosecutors had not proved that he tried to sexually assault the teenager before killing her.
The second time he was tried, prosecutors put on evidence of a letter Powell sent them, in which he detailed how he planned and attempted to have sex with Stacie before killing her.
Jackson was convicted of breaking into the home of Ruth W. Phillips in 2001, raping her and killing her. He confessed to police that he robbed, raped and killed the 88-year-old widow.
Johnson was first convicted in 1998 of raping and stabbing Hope Denise Hall in 1994, after DNA evidence linked him to the slaying. He was 16 at the time of the killing. The Virginia Supreme Court later ordered a new sentencing, ruling that Johnson’s attorney should have objected when the trial judge told the jury not to consider whether Johnson would be eligible for parole. He was convicted again in 2002.
His defense attorneys recently have argued that Johnson’s IQ of 75 could mean he is mentally retarded.
The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of mentally retarded killers. But the state Supreme Court concluded that Johnson’s “claim of mental retardation is frivolous,” a decision that upheld a lower court ruling.
Johnson already was serving prison sentences totaling 100 years for the rapes of two Franklin women when his DNA was matched with evidence found in Miss Hall’s apartment.
Hudson was convicted of killing brothers Stanley and Wesley Cole and Wesley Cole’s wife, Patsy Cole, in July 2002. Hudson pleaded guilty and waived his right to appeal, but the court is required by law to examine all death penalty convictions.