Frequently asked Questions (FAQs)
About David's case

Q - Who is David Lee Powell?
Q - Why has it taken 32 years for Davidís case to be resolved? If three different juries voted for the death penalty, why should we expect the DA, the clemency board or the governor to go against their judgment?
Q - Why did it take so long for David to take responsibility and express his remorse?
Q - Why is David more deserving of mercy than any other convicted killer facing the death penalty?
Q - What happened to Sheila Meinert?
Q - Why has David been in solitary confinement for so long?




Q - Who is David Lee Powell?

A -David Lee Powell was a brilliant, gifted UT student who was on medication to help him get control of his substance abuse problem at the time that he and his girlfriend Sheila Meinert were arrested in 1978 for the killing of Austin, Texas Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo. Experts believe that David was experiencing a drug-induced psychotic break at the time of the murder. David was convicted and sent to Death Row that same year. During his 32 years on Death Row, David has been an exemplary human being who has managed to help numerous people both inside and outside the prison and has shown over and over again the power of restorative justice. He has run out of legal options at this point and the Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, has set a June 15, 2010 execution date. We are trying to save David's life. For a fuller account of David's life and case, click here

Q - Why has it taken 32 years for Davidís case to be resolved? If three different juries voted for the death penalty, why should we expect the DA, the clemency board or the governor to go against their judgment?

A - The first two sentences (1978 and 1991) were overturned during the appeals process based on serious and significant legal issues in those trials, including prosecutorial misconduct. Davidís case has never been cut and dried. 1) To this day, there remain questions about what happened on the night that Officer Ablanedo was killed, especially with regard to whether Sheila Meinert also fired gunshots, most importantly, the gunshot that started the whole incident, or threw a hand grenade. Evidence for her shared culpability was deliberately suppressed by the prosecution until the end of the third trial for sentencing in 1999. 2) Because of Davidís methamphetamine addiction, he was in a paranoid, psychotic state at the time of Officer Ablanedoís death. This was a clear aberration from Davidís personality prior to this period in his life and since his conviction in 1978 when he has been able to receive medication for his mental health condition. 3) The third trial in 1999, which only provided for a new sentencing phase, addressed the issues of deliberateness and future dangerousness, both of which are required to make a capital murder case death eligible. Jury members were split on this question, in the face of 21 years of no violent conduct by David in prison, and unable to come to a consensus until they were sequestered; however, even those deliberations were severely compromised by the withholding of information by the prosecution regarding Meinert. We now have had 32 years of evidence to assess the question of Davidís future dangerousnessóand there is no such evidence. 4) The second and third trials did not start on a clean slate. David had been sentenced to death by one or two previous juries, respectively, and it is likely that the succeeding juries were influenced by that fact.

Q - Why did it take so long for David to take responsibility and express his remorse?

A - In December 2009, David wrote a private letter to apologize to the Ablanedo family, which was the first time that he personally acknowledged responsibility and remorse for the death of Officer Ablanedo. Some people may wonder why it took David so long to apologize if he truly felt remorse. Unfortunately, this delay arises out of the way the adversarial legal system works. Had David taken full responsibility with his own words while any aspects of his case were pending, i.e., before he lost the last round of appeals in March of 2009, he would have compromised himself legally. His words would have been used against him by the district attorney to secure his conviction and death sentence. The legal system imposes constraints, such as the threat of using an accused personís expression of remorse against him, that collide with the needs of the survivors, and indeed the needs of the offender, concerning apology and expression of remorse. Yet those who have known David during his time on death row have clearly witnessed that he has conducted himself with a deep regard for the lives of others, and that he has lived a life of wisdom and strength that reflects both responsibility and remorse, even if those could not be explicitly stated until recently. The film Saving David Powell allows viewers to judge his sincerity for themselves.

Q - Why is David more deserving of mercy than any other convicted killer facing the death penalty?

A - Everyoneís story is unique, and perhaps one could make an argument that everyone is deserving of mercy. In Davidís case, though he is guilty, we donít believe that he should have been considered ďdeath eligible.Ē The tragic events of that night and the irreparable loss of Officer Ablanedoís life were the result of an aberration in Davidís life, of a psychosis driven by addiction to methamphetamines and untreated mental illness. Prior to that period, David was and remains a uniquely gentle, intelligent and giving being. Under other circumstances he would have distinguished himself as a community resource, both as a servant and leader. He has already served 32 years, more than a life sentence in many places, the last eight of them in solitary confinement. He has proven that he is not a danger to society and that he is capable of continuing to contribute to the good of humanity, whether in prison or outside.

Q - What happened to Sheila Meinert?

A - Initially charged with capital murder alongside David in 1978, Sheila was later tried & convicted for a lesser charge of attempted capital murder in connection with the exchange of gunfire which happened after the couple were surrounded by police, after the shooting of Officer Ablanedo. It is not known whether the original charge of capital murder was dropped or may still be pending, but Sheila testified against David in his second and third trials. She served 4 years of a 15 year sentence.

Q - Why has David been in solitary confinement for so long?



A - All death row inmates live in solitary confinement in the State of Texas since the year 1999 when they were moved to the supermax facility Polunsky Unit. Extended solitary confinement is known to cause psychological damage and is the cause of a condition known as Special Housing Unit Syndrome (aka SHU Syndrome). Read more about the effects of extended solitary confinement here.