M. Wizard : David Lee Powell and the Question of "Closure"

The Austin American-Statesman carried the following AP news dispatch this past Sunday, May 18, 2008.

A man sent to death row three times for killing an Austin police officer with an automatic assault weapon almost 30 years ago has won permission to appeal his case again.

David Lee Powell, now 57, most recently was convicted and condemned in 1999 for the 1978 slaying of Ralph Ablanedo, who had pulled over Powell’s girlfriend for a traffic stop near downtown Austin for not having a rear license tag. Powell was a passenger in the car.

In a ruling from a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges agreed that Powell may pursue three claims of appeal, including one that could give him a complete new trial rather than a new punishment trial.

He is claiming his rights were violated because prosecutors didn’t disclose in a timely way documents that showed Powell’s girlfriend may have fired the shots at the slain officer and tossed a hand grenade and fired at other officers when she was arrested, and because an emergency room doctor didn’t provide Miranda warnings to Powell when he examined Powell after his arrest and then testified for the prosecution at Powell’s trial.

The paper also ran two articles by staff writer Tony Plohetski: “Officer’s death 30 years ago still remembered” and ”Waiting for justice: Mother of Austin officer killed 30 years ago today wants killer executed.”

Mariann Wizard, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog who knew Powell when he was a student at the University of Texas at Austin, took issue with the Statesman’s reporting and submitted the following in response. Not expecting the Statesman to run it, she is also posting it here.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog

Death Cannot “Pay For” Life Cut Short
By Mariann Wizard / May 19, 2008 / The Rag Blog

The 1978 murder of Austin policeman Ralph Ablanedo was a tragedy. However, the death penalty David Lee Powell faces will not change it; nor bring “closure” to Ablanedo’s family and friends.

Through Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, I’ve learned of many who, like Ablanedo’s mother, clung for years to retribution, yet found it hollow. No life is “paid for” by death. Mrs. Ablanedo is the victim not only of a crime which took her son, but of a cruel hoax by death penalty supporters, especially the Austin Police Association. Police and prosecutors often surround victims’ family members with a “protective” presence, within which the death penalty is the only way to re-balance the scales of Justice. If the victim is a police officer, “making an example” is the real goal.

The Austin American-Statesman hasn’t the excuse of motherly grief for its lack of objectivity. Could you not make an effort to discover if Powell has family or friends who will mourn him? (He does.) Could you not ask some group which opposes the death penalty, or some mainstream cleric, to comment? Seven short sentences and two photos – in a story two pages long – don’t tell “Who is David Lee Powell”.

I knew him as a polite, genial, bright young student. Methampethamine is still around; back then, we said, “Speed kills.” Powell was clearly deranged when he and/or his girlfriend killed Ablanedo. It would have been hard for a jury to find him insane, however, in a courtroom filled with uniformed APD officers, as it was also at his re-sentencing hearing in 1999!

APA spokesman Mike Sheffield says David “has… enjoyed… seeing his family and visiting and doing all those things that officer Ablanedo has not.” David’s mother, Marjorie Powell, a respected anti-death penalty advocate, died a few years ago, grief-stricken. David has, I believe, one, infrequent, visitor. As for “all those things” Ralph Ablanedo cannot do that Powell allegedly enjoys, Texas’ Death House is not known for its amenities. Yes, life itself is a gift. But we are not its Giver; nor is the State of Texas.

My husband, George Vizard, an anti-war and civil rights crusader, was murdered here in 1967. Fourteen years passed before Robert Zani, named to police the day after George died, was charged and convicted. He married, had children, and allegedly committed other murders. A Supreme Court moratorium on the death penalty made it a non-option in his case, but neither George’s parents nor myself would have supported it; it would have negated everything George – and we – believed about the sanctity of life.

George’s mother thinks of him every day, as I do, but those thoughts are not blighted by hate and anger! We keep bright the love and joy of him, and are grateful we had him for a while; we don’t seek a false “closure”. Zani is serving 99 years in Huntsville. This is good. Nothing can restore what he took from us, and I am myself incapable of desiring the reconciliation some MVFR members have found, but we won’t have his blood staining our hands, or George’s memory.

Shame on the Statesman for so uncritically exhorting us to state-sponsored bloodlust!

The Rag Blog

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3 Responses to M. Wizard : David Lee Powell and the Question of "Closure"

  1. Interestingly, the print version of the Sunday Statesman did not include the AP story quoted above, just two stories — well, one super long story and a sidebar — by staff writer Tony Plohetski AND a full-page 4-color ad paid for by the Austin Police Association.
    Hunh. Wonder how much they paid for that?
    And no, the pape has not indicated that it will run my response.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You don’t want the killer’s blood staining your hands. But, you are not bothered enough by Ralph Ablanedo’s sacred blood. He volunteered to protect us from the likes of DLP. Your kind just want it all to go away. I agree, killing DLP won’t in any way bring anyone justice. But, DLP did kill a policeman. He’s costing Texas $$millions. He’ll probably out live you. But, you just want it all to go away. You chicken-livered weenie. A couple of hundred years ago people like you were spit on and slain out of hand for being so cowardly. In this modern age people like you are worse than DLP.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting! And where and when have humanists NOT beem “spit on and slain out of hand” by small-minded bigots? Those who equate forgiveness with cowardice are surely not “Christians”, are they? My oh my, WWJD?

    All blood is sacred. Ralph Ablanedo’s death was a needless tragedy. David Powell’s will be another. If it would bring CLOSURE to Ablanedo’s family, even he might welcome it by now. Sadly, however, it won’t. That is the point of Mrs. Vizard’s article.

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