- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

RICHMOND (AP) | The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday stopped the execution of a Virginia man while it considers whether to hear his argument that he was unconstitutionally tried a second time for killing a 16-year-old girl after describing the crime in a taunting letter to a prosecutor.

The court’s order came a day before Paul Warner Powell, 31, was scheduled to die for killing Stacie Reed in her Manassas home in 1999. He had chosen to die by electrocution.

Powell was convicted of Miss Reed’s capital murder in 2000, as well as of raping and trying to kill her 14-year-old sister, Kristie.

The Virginia Supreme Court overturned the capital murder verdict, saying prosecutors lacked evidence that he raped or robbed Stacie or committed other death-qualifying offenses.

Powell then wrote a taunting letter to Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert detailing how he tried to rape Stacie and then stabbed her in the heart. He said he went downstairs, had a cigarette and some iced tea, and waited for her sister to come home from school.

Mr. Ebert threw out the first-degree murder charge and charged Powell with capital murder for the killing and attempted rape of Stacie.

Powell was convicted again in 2003 and sentenced to death.

His lawyers argue that the second capital murder charge amounted to double jeopardy.

State and federal courts have repeatedly rejected Powell’s claim, saying the original charge was different because he was not accused of attempting to rape Stacie.

A panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Powell’s claim in April in a 2-1 ruling, and the full court refused to take up the argument.

Appeals court Judge Roger L. Gregory offered the lone dissent in April’s ruling.

“Given the explicit details revealed by Powell in his letter to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, one understands the strong inclination to prosecute Powell for those heinous acts,” he wrote. “Yet, it is in these very cases that we must be most vigilant in protecting our long-standing constitutional guarantees.”

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides not to take up the appeal, Powell will again face death.

Stacie and Kristie’s mother, Lorraine Whoberry, said she had mixed emotions about the court’s decision. She said she would withhold further comment until a news conference the family had planned for Tuesday.

Powell’s attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

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