A Guy Bragged About His Murder To The Prosecutor, Thinking He Was Home Free
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Not all murders are equal. When Paul Warner Powell went on trial for killing a 16-year-old in 1999, it was pretty clear he had committed murder. But exactly how the murder had gone, and how bad it was, well, that was something investigators couldn't quite prove. Powell was sentenced to the death penalty, but he appealed and got that verdict vacated. The murder lacked aggravating factors, so it wasn't a capital offense, said the Virginia Supreme Court.
Powell was sentenced to life in prison. He figured he was stuck there—there was nothing better or worse the state could do to him now. So he had nothing to lose. He wrote to the prosecutor.
"Mr. Ebert," he wrote, "Since I have already been indicted on first degree murder and the Va. Supreme Court said that I can't be charged with capital murder again, I figured I would tell you the rest of what happened on Jan. 29, 1999, to show you how stupid all of y'all mother f*ckers are."
He then went into explicit, gloating detail about the murder. He ended before a string of profanity, by saying, "I would like to thank you for saving my life. I know you're probably wondering how you saved my life, so I'll tell you. You saved my life by f*cking up. There were 2 main f*ck-ups you made that saved me. The first was the way you worded my capital murder indictment. The second was the comment you made in your closing argument when you said we won't know because he won't tell us. One more time, thank you!"
Powell thought they couldn't retry him as that would be double jeopardy. But like a lot of people, he didn't quite understand what double jeopardy is. The worst example of this is surely the movie Double Jeopardy, which says that if you're found not guilty of killing someone once, you can then actually kill them and the state can't charge you. Powell's idea—that a vacated verdict's gone forever—wasn't as dumb, but it was still wrong.
The fact was, Powell hadn't been acquitted of anything, so double jeopardy didn't apply. They retried him, found him newly guilty, and this time sentenced him to die.
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