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Investigator recounts grim details of victim’s remains as murder retrial continues

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HUDSON—Testimony focused on the victim’s body, the bag it was stuffed in and the boat allegedly used to dump the body in the Hudson River as the Warren Powell murder retrial resumed Monday afternoon April 6.
     Mr. Powell, 38, a Valatie native who lived in the Saratoga County community of Halfmoon 15 years ago, is charged with second degree murder, a class A-1 felony. The indictment alleges that on or about October 1, 1994 Mr. Powell caused the death of his wife, Mary Ann (Tasick) Powell, 21, who was six-months pregnant with the couple’s first child. Campers hiking near Gay’s Point in Stockport discovered her body in the Hudson River May 25, 1996. She had been strangled to death and stuffed in a hockey bag weighted with rocks.
     Mr. Powell, who was convicted of the crime in 1997, successfully appealed his conviction 2004, although he remains in prison on an unrelated drug case.
     State Police Senior Investigator Jeffrey Ullman was working at the Troop G Forensic Identification Unit in May 1996 when he attended the autopsy of Mrs. Powell, whose body had been found the day before. The autopsy took place at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, and it was Sr. Inv. Ullman’s job to photographically document the autopsy including the condition of the body and the 42-inch-long hockey equipment bag that contained it.
     This week under questioning by Assistant District Attorney David Costanzo, who is prosecuting the case along with H. Neal Conolly, the investigator recounted having to cut the heavy canvas bag open to remove the remains inside intact. He said the decomposed body of the young woman was in the fetal position, knees to chest. A large rope was wound through the victim’s open mouth, around her neck and tied at the back of her head. The body was clothed in a grayish sweatshirt bearing the words “Winter attitude,” turquoise sweatpants and socks, no shoes.
     A silver high school ring with a blue stone and engraved with her maiden name, Mary Ann Tasick, was with the body. Several “large shale-type rocks” were in the two end compartments of the bag typically reserved for hockey skates, said Sr. Inv. Ullman.
     He confirmed having photographed the bottom of the hockey bag, which had a hard surface with a pattern of “ribbed striations.”
     Sr. Inv. Ullman also photographed the aluminum boat purchased by Mr. Powell on the day his wife disappeared. He testified that the same striated pattern on the bottom of the hockey bag also appeared on the aluminum seats of the boat. A coat of gray primer made the striated pattern visible.
     During cross-examination by defense attorney Stephen Coffey the investigator acknowledged that that hair had been found inside the hockey bag that did not belong to either Mr. or Mrs. Powell. Sr. Inv. Ullman said that it was not known what had been in the bag before the body was stuffed in it.
     The defense attorney questioned whether Mr. Powell could have lifted the body and the bag, which together weighed nearly 200 pounds when Mrs. Powell’s remains were found. And Mr. Coffey contended that State Police made the incriminating marks on the boat seats and then had Sr. Inv. Ullman photograph them in June 1996.
     But Sr. Inv. Ullman said that another State Police investigator, James Booth, photographed the boat in November 1994, and that those photos, though not as detailed as the ones taken two years later, showed the marks on the boat’s seats.
     Investigator Booth then testified about the photographs he took of the boat after State Police seized it in 1994.
     Before testimony got started Monday, Judge Jonathan Nichols, said that the commissioner of jurors had received a call from a woman juror who asked to be excused from service due to a medical emergency in her immediate family. After consulting with the attorneys in the case, the judge replaced the juror with a man, one of the three alternates. The jury is now six women and six men.
     Testimony was scheduled to resume Wednesday, April 8.

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

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