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Powell questions deputy during murder retrial

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HUDSON—Though highly irregular and not typically permitted, defendant Warren Powell was allowed to briefly question a witness, Friday, April 3, during the second day of testimony in his retrial for the strangulation murder of his wife.
     Mr. Powell, 38, who is from Valatie but was living in the Saratoga County community of Halfmoon at the time of the crime, is charged with second degree murder. The indictment alleges that Mr. Powell murdered his wife, Mary Ann (Tasick) Powell, 21, on or about October 1, 1994.
     Mrs. Powell was six-months pregnant with the couple’s first child. Her body, tied up and stuffed a hockey bag weighted down with rocks, was discovered in the Hudson River May 25, 1996 by campers hiking near Gay’s Point in Stockport.
     Mr. Powell was previously convicted of the crime in 1997 but won an appeal of that conviction in December 2004.
     When Mr. Powell’s defense attorney Stephen Coffey could not get Saratoga County Deputy Kenneth D. Cooper, Jr., to answer a question the way Mr. Powell wanted it answered, the defendant asked Columbia County Court Judge Jonathan Nichols for permission to ask the question. The judge told Mr. Powell to speak to his attorney, but Mr. Coffey told the judge, “He wants to participate in his defense.”   
     Judge Nichols was reluctant and asked prosecutor H. Neal Conolly for his reaction to the request. Mr. Conolly reserved the right to object, but left the decision up to the judge, who eventually said he would allow Mr. Powell “some latitude” to ask a question.
     So Mr. Powell asked Deputy Cooper to read his own notes to the jury, which indicated that though Mrs. Powell had previously looked at the boat that Mr. Powell bought on the day of her disappearance, she did not see it after he purchased it. This account differed from the deputy’s earlier testimony that Mr. Powell told him Mrs. Powell was with him at the time he purchased the boat.
     Mr. Powell then seemed satisfied that the correct answer had been elicited.
     In other testimony on Friday, the jury heard from two Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office investigators. Investigator Michael Zurlo took a five-page statement from Mr. Powell on October 7, 1994 about Mr. Powell’s activities October 1. Investigator Kevin Mullahey asked Mr. Powell on October 19, 1994, where his wife was.
     Inv. Mullahey said Mr. Powell told him that while he could have shown the investigator where his wife (Mrs. Powell) was last week, he could not show him now. When Inv. Mullahey asked Mr. Powell to elaborate on his statement, Mr. Powell declined to speak, said the investigator.
     During cross-examination, Mr. Coffey sought to raise questions about the actions of police, asking Inv. Zurlo about a State Police investigator the defense lawyer suggested took over the case and pressing Inv. Mullahey about why he didn’t continue to ask questions of Mr. Powell.
     Inv. Zurlo said repeatedly that the investigation was a joint effort.
     Also on the stand Friday was David Averill, an investigator for Verizon, who produced phone records showing that someone had a made a call from the Powell residence at 2 p.m. October 1, 1994 to the residence of Michael Smith, who sold a boat that day to Mr. Powell.
     Alice Hornung, a longtime neighbor of Warren Powell’s parents, Roxanne and Milton Powell of Valatie, testified that Warren Powell deposited a boat on her property and left her a note advising her about it. Ms. Hornung said that many of her relatives and neighbors stored items on her farm, including her nephew John Knight, who was active in sports and left “big duffel bags, skis, tennis equipment” in her barn.
     Mrs. Powell’s body was found inside a large hockey equipment bag of the type stored on the farm by Mr. Knight, and the prosecution wanted to show the jury that Mr. Powell had access to such a bag.
     The final witness of the day was Joan Pulver Smith, who told the court about Mr. Powell’s visit to her home on Route 9, Kinderhook, October 1, 1994 and his purchase of the boat and trailer belonging to her and her husband.
     Testimony is scheduled to continue Monday, April 6, at 1 p.m.

To contact reporter Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com .

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