TESTIMONIALS FOR DAVID

I admire David’s intelligence and his daunting spirit to stay in this world, to be able to so clearly see the larger world, and to keep his mind alive and his compassion intact. There is nothing to indicate that he would be a threat if he were released. But in Texas with regard to the death penalty, anything goes. It’s not the pursuit of justice. And the idea of closure is illusory. The victim’s families expect some kind of satisfaction, and they’re not going to get it. My stepson was brutally murdered, so I can say I’ve lived what I speak. David can continue to contribute to the world, he is certainly more valuable in life than in death.

--Sissy Farenthold, attorney
Former member of the Texas House of Representatives
Former President of Wells College New York


I testified in Austin, Texas on behalf of a young man (Powell) who had become deeply involved with amphetamines. I had, a few years prior to this trial, published a book on amphetamines (The American Speed Culture: Amphetamines in the USA Today, Harvard University Press, 1973). It was clear to me that this young man had been using so much speed that he had developed what is called an amphetamine psychosis which is all but clinically indistinguishable from an acute paranoid schizophrenic reaction. This is a psychosis that lasts no more than a week. I was convinced that this young man was suffering from such a paranoid psychosis at the time this crime was committed. I testified after a psychiatrist, who was referred to as Dr. Death, had testified in support of the death penalty. It was clear to me in the courtroom that there was considerable, palpable hostility toward "this Harvard psychiatrist, who had come here to Texas to tell us what to do with our murderers"; the whole experience made me very uncomfortable and I knew then that what I had said would be ignored. It deeply disturbs me to think that there is a "justice system" so out of contact with justice and humane values that it would behave this way.

--Lester Grinspoon MD
Harvard Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry


I believe this is a case where justice and the healing of our community are best served by mercy.

I made pastoral connection with Mr. Powell during his appeal in Travis County. In addition to numerous personal conversations, the record of his assistance to other prisoners, his behavior during incarceration, his involvement with a wider community addressing judicial reform, and his outreach to the Ablanedo family convince me Mr. Powell is not a threat to become a repeat offender, but rather a positive contribution to our society.

While no remedy – including execution - is available to offset the loss to the Ablanedo family, the execution of Mr. Powell simply extends the damage to his family and friends, as well as the social fabric of our community.

I also believe the moral leadership of a tempering mercy would help our city to be more thoughtful and just in rendering judgments in an increasingly violent time.

--Dr. Larry Bethune,
Sr. Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin


My name is Rachel and I'm a Plan II Sophomore at UT. I first learned about David last semester when we spent a couple of weeks talking about the morality (or immorality) of the death penalty in my Plan II Philosophy class. After watching the video clips of David, I was immediately impressed by his intellectual capacity and the strength and courage he has shown throughout his 30 years of prison.

I was reminded of David's story today as I browsed the Austin American-Statesman's website. The crime David committed is permanent and will never be forgotten. I grieve for the families hurt by his actions. However, I am also saddened by David's situation in itself. Through your website, I learned about his numerous achievements while in prison and am inspired by the impact he had on fellow prisoners and beyond.

David's story has influenced me this year maybe more than anything else has. Regardless of my feelings about the death penalty, I think we can all agree that David, though a perpetrator of a horrific crime, has led an inspiring life. Because of David, I have questioned my own beliefs on capitol punishment and continue to examine and question our imperfect justice system.

I keep David in my thoughts and pray that whatever happens, David will finally be able to find peace.

Sincerely, Rachel P.
Jan 28, 2010


I met David in 1996, and we spoke every week or so over a period of about three years. I found David to be an intelligent, friendly and kind person who seemed genuinely interested in helping others in any way he could. The stories that I heard of what he had done for fellow inmates over the years—teaching them to read and write and encouraging them to educate themselves—seemed totally consistent with the person that I had gotten to know. In part through speaking with David, I came to the conclusion that I could have a career that involved helping others, and utilize the skills I had learned in college, by becoming a lawyer. I did so, attending the University of Texas Law School with David’s encouragement. The bottom line in David’s case is that I do not believe, nor do I think that anyone who has gotten to know him in the last 30 years believes, that he poses a threat to anyone. To the contrary, I and others who have gotten to know him believe that he can only be a positive influence on anyone with whom he comes into contact.

--Matthew H. Leys, attorney


I marvel at how David Lee Powell and I were able to develop an enduring friendship that has lasted for nearly fifteen years! As so many others can attest, he won my respect and love with his kind, intelligent, generous, and unpresuming spirit. David’s early history, the tragedy of the death of Officer Ralph Ablanedo in 1978, the legal twists and turns of his case, and his years upon years on death row all form the tapestry of his life. How he has managed in his circumstances to conduct himself with such grace, compassion and dignity, thereby transforming himself and others, defies imagination. It remains for those of us who have glimpsed and been touched by David’s true self to discern the soulful riches that his life bequeaths to us. What profound human gifts he has exhibited under nearly impossible conditions.

--Vik Bahl, Ph.D. Professor, Green River Community College


I am the sister of Marjorie Powell, David’s mother. I have known David since his birth. I lived with the Powell family from 1956 through 1959, David's ages 5 - 8. David was a beautiful boy and very, very smart. Always with a curious, inquisitive mind. He had a very kind and gentle character and was always looking after other people. We belong to a family of hunters and in visiting my family, David refused to learn to shoot a gun, and he thought it was cruel to kill an animal.

When David was 12 or 13 years old, he wanted to be a priest. He thought priests were very helpful to humanity. He kept this gentle, compassionate personality and started at the University of Texas making straight A’s in Plan II. His ambition was to become a medical doctor.

I had a complete nervous breakdown in January 1961. I was in Timberlawn for 6 months. My father’s sister had had a complete nervous breakdown, so they were familiar with the condition, and therefore were understanding and compassionate towards me.

About David – in August 1977 he went missing, but before he disappeared I met with him. He made no sense at all to me. I thought he had had a nervous breakdown and was very scared for him. We tried to help but he ran away and we couldn’t find him.

This crime was very shocking to all of his family as it was so against his basic character. We still have a very hard time understanding our David being involved in anything like this. I know David was heavily into drugs, he had a terribly sensitive nature, so that combined with his mental state must be what led him to this situation. But it still doesn’t make any sense to people who really knew him.

I love David too much to even say. All of his life David has been a very kind, loving person. All of his family live every day in extreme dread of his being executed. The thought never, ever leaves us.

We pray every day for David to be spared from execution. And we pray for the family of Officer Ablanedo.

--the late Frida Struve Milone
(like all David's family members who have passed away, he was not allowed to go to her funeral)


I met David Powell in the early 1970s, David was a student at the University of Texas. We met through one of my husband's co-workers, and I saw David at the homes of a pretty cohesive social set, for the next two or three years. I remember what a considerate, well-mannered guy he was, not in a way that suggested he was trying to curry favor, but in the very natural way that a nice young man, who is aware of what's going on and responds appropriately in social situations: he has been taught to routinely consider others as well as himself.

The next time I heard of David was when he was arrested. I couldn't believe at first that he could be THAT "David Lee Powell"! The shocking circumstances, and the wild-eyed fellow in the newspapers, couldn't be reconciled with the handsome, well-groomed person I'd known.

David's real impact on my life began when a woman I'd recently met, a volunteer with Amnesty International, asked if I'd consider visiting him in the Travis County Jail, where he was being held. She felt I would have a unique perspective, because my husband had been brutally murdered some years before.

When I visited David in jail that first time, I was relieved to find that, without the methamphetamine that had clearly fueled a horrible tragedy, he was still basically the sweet-natured, un-self-centered person I remembered. Our conversations then and later were wide-ranging and enjoyable, occasionally poignant.

We used to exchange letters, but I understand that the rigors and suffering of thirty years on death row have greatly reduced his ability to interact with friends outside. I miss hearing from him, and being able to exchange views on current events and philosophy. For David, who has lost so much time and has so little hope, and who is very hard on himself, the toll that death row has taken on him is almost inevitable.

David is an intelligent, very sensitive man, who has suffered deeply in thinking of the consequences of his choices, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is truly penitent. I am sure he could be a positive influence on others; he would be an excellent peer counselor.

If David Powell is executed, we are all complicit in his death. I keep him in my heart, and will not forget the lovely young man he was. As another poet once said, "Any man's death diminishes me."

--Mariann G. Wizard, poet