David Lee Powell, 59, was executed by lethal injection on 15 June 2010 in Huntsville, Texas for killing a police officer at a traffic stop.
On the evening of 17 May 1978, Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo, 26, pulled over a vehicle for not displaying a rear license plate. The driver, Sheila Meinert, 27, got out of the car and approached him. She told him she had lost her driver's license, but she showed him her passport. The officer asked the dispatcher by radio to check Meinert and her passenger, David Powell, 27, for outstanding warrants. The dispatcher informed Ablanedo that the computers were not functioning properly, but that there were no local warrants for Meinert. Ablanedo issued Meinert a citation for the license plate and allowed her to drive away. As she was pulling out, however, the dispatcher told Ablanedo that Powell had a possible warrant for misdemeanor theft. The dispatcher called for officer Bruce Mills, Ablanedo's partner, to go out to back up Ablanedo.
Ablanedo stopped the vehicle again. As he was approaching the car, and Meinert was walking toward him, Powell shot at the officer through the back window with an AK-47 machine gun. Initially, the weapon was set to semiautomatic mode. Ablanedo tried to get up, but Powell switched the weapon to full automatic mode and fired at him again. The car then left.
Officer Mills arrived a few minutes later. Ablanedo had been shot ten times. Despite the fact that he was wearing a bulletproof vest, it was not designed to withstand fire from automatic weapons. Ablanedo told Mills what happened and said he had no chance to draw his weapon. He died on the operating table of the hospital about an hour after he was shot.
Officers tracked Powell's car to an apartment complex parking lot. Powell fired on them from inside the vehicle, but no one was hit. Meinert was arrested in the parking lot.
Police arrested Powell in the early morning in some bushes on the grounds of a nearby school. They discovered a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a backpack containing 2 and 1/4 ounces of high-grade methamphetamine hidden under some shrubs. In the car, police discovered a book entitled "Book of Rifles". Pages discussing the AK-47 were tabbed down, and the book contained notes in Powell's handwriting about different types of weapons and other books on weapons. Also in the car were a pair of handcuffs, some ammunition, and books and notes regarding guerrilla warfare.
Back at the apartment complex, officers found a live hand grenade on the ground, about ten feet away from the driver's door of one of the police cars. The grenade did not detonate because, although the pin was pulled out, the safety clip was still in place.
A search of Powell's residence uncovered another hand grenade, more guns and ammunition, books on weapons and combat, a methamphetamine lab, and three vials of methamphetamine.
Powell's background was different from most other capital murder defendants. He graduated from high school a year early and was both the valedictorian and "most likely to succeed" of his small rural school class. He was accepted into the honors program at the University of Texas. While there, he became an anti-war protester and began using drugs. He never finished college. By 1978, he was a heavy user and dealer of methamphetamine, and had an arrest record for auto theft, petty theft, and drug possession. He was wanted for passing over 100 bad checks to merchants in the Austin area and had begun carrying around loaded weapons out of paranoia. He had no criminal convictions at the time of the murder.
On the day of Powell's arrest, the trial court, at the state's request, ordered a psychiatric examination to determine his sanity at the time of the offense and competency to stand trial. Dr. Richard Coons and Dr. George Parker conducted the evaluation and determined that Powell was sane and competent.
Bobby Bullard testified that he witnessed Ablanedo's shooting as he was driving home from work. He saw shots fired from the Mustang that knocked out the back windshield. He saw a man sitting in the middle of the front seat, leaning into the back seat. Bullard's description of the man he saw shooting matched Powell's appearance at the time of his arrest. However, Bullard, Officer Mills, others who arrived at the scene, and the doctors who treated Ablanedo all testified that Ablanedo repeatedly said "that damn girl".
Witness testimony was also contradictory as to whether Powell or Meinert threw the grenade in the direction of the police car at the apartment parking lot.
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