KILLEEN, Texas — George Powell seemed disappointed but optimistic in court Tuesday. He waved and thanked his supporters and reporters for highlighting his case.
Powell, who was in prison for more than 10 years for a robbery he said he didn’t commit, had a pre-trial hearing in which a previous bond of $500,000 was reinstated.
Powell was convicted of a robbery of a Killeen 7-11, but the conviction was vacated due to prosecutorial misconduct. The case gained nationwide attention due to false testimony from a jailhouse informant and major height discrepancies between Powell and the suspect captured in the surveillance video of the robbery. Powell was moved back to the Bell County Jail from Gatesville prison early Monday morning.
"I mean this DA's office engaged in egregious misconduct in the original trial and they got caught. An honest DA would ask himself or herself, 'If we had to break the rules in order to win the case, maybe there's something wrong with our case. Maybe this guy is innocent and that is the case here.' George is innocent," said Powell's attorney with the Innocence Project Mike Ware.
After a set of hearings this summer with new legal representation from the Innocence Project of Texas, a legal organization that fights wrongful convictions, Powell's conviction was vacated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals due to prosecutorial misconduct.
Powell's case gained nationwide attention and he was featured in a Netflix special.
In a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, Ware said he’s disappointed a lower bond wasn’t set Tuesday. He said Powell wants his day in court to clear his name and is not a flight risk. Ware said he thinks the state is taking such a strong stance on the bond because it will be bad for optics if Powell appears to be a free while out on bond. In Tuesday's hearing the state did not want to even discuss a new bond and instead mentioned Powell's criminal history prior to being convicted. Ware questions whether the second trial will be handled properly and is asking for a special prosecutor.
"They want to keep him locked up and confined. Since the Netflix series, we've gotten some information about who the actual perpetrator might be. I really wish there was a district attorney's office I could trust to turn that information over to, but I can't trust this district attorney's office to go after the actual perpetrator," Ware said.
Powell is expected back in court on Sept. 25. The possibility of reducing his bond will be discussed.
"I really was hoping that he'd be coming home with me. I've waited six years for this day and I guess I have to wait a little bit longer," Powell's girlfriend Tamra Parsons said. "With the state's case, all of their pillars have fallen. I think they're concerned that he's gonna be able to walk through the doors of the 7-11 and show that his height is drastically different."
Because of how high profile Powell's case is, he's being held in a separation cell at the jail as he awaits trial, Parsons said.
The Innocence Project of Texas released the following statement Tuesday:
Innocence Project of Texas client George Powell was transferred from his State prison unit in Gatesville to Bell County jail yesterday. This morning, September 17, Judge John Gauntt of the 27th District Court in Belton, Texas followed the prosecution’s request that Powell’s bail be set at $500,000.
Mike Ware, Executive Director of IPTX and Lead Counsel for Powell, said. “Imagine spending more than a decade of your life wrongfully convicted in prison, a state court ruling in your favor that you should be released, having no money because you’ve been in prison for so long, and having bail set in an amount you cannot possibly make.”
Anna Vasquez, IPTX Education and Outreach Coordinator was dismayed at the outcome of the hearing today. “It’s incredible for bail to have been set so high. As an exoneree myself, with the other San Antonio 4 who were wrongfully convicted, we were released on a personal recognizance bond, pending the final outcome of our case.” Vasquez added, “And there’s nothing worse than being in prison and then getting transferred to jail where there are very limited activities to at least keep your mind busy,” she said.
A rehearing has been requested by IPTX for Powell to reduce the bail amount, and is set for next Wednesday, September 25th at 1:30 p.m. Ware said, “The law says that George’s entitled to bail but, for George, requiring half a million dollars in bail is no different than denying him bail completely. He does not have any money. And he’s hardly a flight risk. He has family in the area, he is from here, and is ready to get his life back together.”
The Powell case was featured in a Netflix Originals documentary series “Exhibit A” that premiered at the end of June in 2019. The series was an exploration into the American criminal justice systems through the uncertainties of forensic science, revealing how often flawed or misapplied science can lead to wrongful convictions.
Synopsis from Netflix: “In the summer of 2008, a man disguised in a baseball cap and sunglasses commits a string of bumbling convenience store robberies in Killeen, Tx. The police quickly target George Powell III, an aspiring rap artist who has been a thorn in their side for selling his homemade CD’s on the street. However, all the eyewitnesses describe the robber as 5’6” and George Powell is 6’3” so a crime-scene reconstructionist from Florida uses questionable forensic video analysis to prove George could be the culprit.”
On September 11, 2019, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas issued a mandate in the case of Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) client George Powell, that he should be released from the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, TX, which occurred yesterday morning.
Powell was convicted of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2009.
The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the trial prosecutors committed serious misconduct that resulted in an unfair trial and wrongful conviction of Powell. They threw out the conviction.
More specifically, the Court concurred with IPTX that he was denied due process when the State:
• Failed to disclose to the defense that the jailhouse informant was testifying in exchange for favorable treatment in his own criminal case
• Presented false testimony when that witness said he was not expecting any such benefit and
• Failed to correct that false testimony.
The court agreed with Powell’s claims that the Bell County prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to his trial lawyers that could have resulted in Powell’s acquittal. In fact, they knowingly presented perjured testimony by their star witness in their effort to get him convicted. Ware said, “Prosecutors should ask themselves, if they have to break the law and coax witnesses to lie in order to get a conviction, maybe there is something wrong with their case. Maybe the defendant is innocent.”
IPTX continues to assert that the court has not addressed Powell’s Actual Innocence as it did not in its opinion mention the extensive evidence of the use of junk forensic science testimony in obtaining Powell’s conviction and how new science completely excludes Powell as the perpetrator of the robbery.
Mike Ware said it is critical to now disqualify the Bell County District Attorney who oversaw the original case. “We are going to ask for a hearing to disqualify the D.A. and hopefully we will get an honorable, experienced, and fair-minded special prosecutor.”
“We will not stop fighting until we receive George’s full exoneration,” said Mike Ware.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Powell and his family with transition expenses.
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