A 16-year-old boy who was dealing with a lifetime of problems "snapped" before clubbing his mother to death last year with a baseball bat, his lawyer said yesterday after the teenager pleaded guilty to the crime.
Lewin C. Powell III's difficulties with his mother culminated in a heated dispute over his schoolwork, said the attorney, Shanell Kathleen Harleston.
"It wasn't just one argument about grades," the lawyer said. "He never told anyone he was going through anything. That particular day was the first time he'd ever argued back. I think the lesson here is, don't keep it bottled up."
Powell's guilty plea to a single count of first-degree murder came in a Baltimore County Circuit Court hearing attended by his father, whom the boy had also attacked. New details of the killing emerged at the hearing, including the defendant's dawning realization, as he was being placed under arrest, that his actions might have the most dire consequences.
"Do we have the death penalty here?" he asked a police officer, according to the prosecution's account of the murder and its aftermath.
Powell was charged as an adult but was not eligible for the death penalty because of his age. Prosecutors said they will seek a sentence of life in prison.
"We felt a life sentence was sufficient to protect the public," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger.
The former McDonogh School student, who will be sentenced on April 3, had initially pleaded not guilty, stipulating that he was not criminally responsible - Maryland's equivalent of an insanity plea. Under a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped three other charges.
Powell could be eligible for parole in 15 years or, with good behavior, in 12.
Harleston, the defense attorney, said after the hearing that she would ask the judge to refer him to the Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security facility with a psychiatric and educational treatment program for young offenders. The defense plans to ask the judge to suspend all but 15 years of the agreed-upon life sentence.
Wearing a gray suit, white shirt and tie and clutching what appeared to be a Bible, Powell politely answered a series of questions from Judge Kathleen G. Cox as to whether he understood that by pleading guilty he was giving up his right to a trial. "Yes, your honor," he replied quietly each time.
Powell was to have stood trial in the death on May 13, 2008, of his mother, Donna Rosemarie Campbell-Powell, 39, an employee of the county Office of Budget and Finance, and the attempted murder of his father, Lewin C. Powell Jr., the following day at their home in the Riderwood area of Towson.
In court yesterday, the boy listened without apparent expression as Assistant State's Attorney Charles R. Gayle read aloud a long recitation of the events surrounding the killing. Powell admitted to police that he grabbed a baseball bat and pummeled his mother after he became infuriated by her persistent questions over his deteriorating school grades at his $20,000-a-year private school.
Gayle said Powell had first used his fists, hitting his mother until she was "in a daze," and dragged her closer to the back door of the house before fetching the bat, Gayle said. At one point, Powell noticed his mother was holding a kitchen knife, which he swatted from her hand with the bat, Gayle said.
After clubbing her at least five times and determining that she was dead, he put a plastic bag over her head "so she wouldn't bleed all over the house," the prosecutor said. Powell then hid her body in the garage, cleaned up some of the blood spattered about, and went to sleep in his room, the bat by his side, the prosecutor said.
The boy's father arrived home about midnight but was unaware of the attack and bedded down on a couch downstairs. In the morning, the prosecutor said, the elder Powell awoke to find himself being beaten with the bat.
"I'm going to kill you!" the boy said, according to Gayle, who added: "The defendant told his dad they pushed him too hard and that he couldn't take it any more."
Powell's father, who is not a tall man and was in fear for his life, Gayle said, convinced the boy, as a ruse, that he would give him money to help him escape, but that they would both have to go to the bank to collect it.
Just before they were to leave the house, two of the mother's colleagues, concerned that she had not shown up for work as usual, knocked on the door. The father and son did not answer it, the son out of fear of being discovered and the father because he was afraid his son would harm the two women, Gayle said.
Summoned by the mother's colleagues, police later went to the address in the 1600 block of Alston Road and saw father and son walking away from the house, the older man bleeding from the head.
"Thank God you're here," he told the officers. "My son killed my wife, and she's in the house."
The boy immediately admitted to the killing, Gayle said. "I hid her in the garage," he told the officers. "I can take you where she is. I hid her under some stuff."
Powell also told police he had a valid passport in the house and intended to use the money his father gave him to leave the country.
Outside the courtroom, Gayle told the elder Powell that he would be required to testify as a witness at the sentencing hearing.
"I can't testify against my son," Powell was overheard saying. A few minutes later, he was asked by a reporter whether he was keeping in touch with his son.
"Yeah," he said quietly.