BELTON — George Powell III has spent about 10 years in prison on a 2009 Bell County conviction for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, but he has always claimed he’s innocent.
The Texas Innocence Project looked into his claims and decided they had merit, so the Powell case is back in the Bell County court system as his attorneys attempt to convince state District Judge John Gauntt to recommend that Powell either deserves a new trial or should go free.
The hearings started in September and focus on video evidence showing discrepancies between the height differences of Powell and the suspected robber, and the retraction of a Bell County Jail prisoner’s testimony that originally sealed Powell’s conviction.
Innocence Project Executive Director Michael Ware and Walter Reaves have traveled between Dallas and Belton to challenge the case.
Assistant District Attorney Sean Proctor spent most of Thursday morning backing up the reputation of Demetric Smith, the jailhouse snitch who said Powell confessed that he was responsible for armed robberies in Killeen and Coryell County. Smith’s testimony helped sway jurors to give Powell a 28-year sentence.
Testifying Thursday were Killeen Police Detective Roy Clayton and First Assistant District Attorney Paul McWilliams, who prosecuted Powell with his wife, Leslie McWilliams, another assistant DA.
Clayton said Smith’s inside information was useful and credible, but denied under cross-examination he knew about Smith’s mental issues or plea deal with the district attorney’s office that sent him to jail for only two years.
Smith recanted his testimony last year, and Proctor spent Thursday morning picking apart the wording and claims in Smith’s 2016 affidavit.
McWilliams explained his memory of the steps leading to Powell’s trial and conviction. He said the prosecutors searched online to find an expert to explain the height difference Powell claimed proved his innocence. The witnesses to the robberies all estimated the robber was from 5 feet, 6 inches to 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and Powell is 6 feet, 3 inches tall.
The search for photogrammetry experts came up with three names, and the only person who responded back was Michael Knox, McWilliams said. Knox was used as the prosecution’s expert witness.
A lot of Thursday afternoon’s cross-examination of McWilliams centered on when and how much McWilliams and his wife told the defense team of Michael Magana and Bobby Barina about Smith’s mental incompetency, the expert witness they had recruited and Knox’s lack of formal training in photogrammetry.
For instance, Ware pointed out that the prosecution didn’t reveal one doctor’s conclusions that Smith was schizophrenic, paranoid, delusional, unstable and needed to be in a psychiatric facility. Also not revealed was an evaluation that determine Smith might have mental illness or could be feigning or exaggerating symptoms of mental illness.
McWilliams said, in his opinion, not revealing that information wasn’t exculpatory or impeachment evidence.
The next hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 14.
“The most important thing right now is we’re concentrating on setting an innocent man free,” Ware said.
Proctor and District Attorney Henry Garza did not respond to a Temple Daily Telegram request for comment Thursday.