As the unresolved criminal court case surrounding a quadruple homicide grinds into its third year, the mother of two of the victims is raising concerns about how the case has been handled by police and the district court.
Brothers James and Cedric Poore are charged with first-degree murder in the January 2013 slayings of Rebeika Powell, Kayetie Powell Melchor, Julie Jackson and Misty Nunley. Their bodies were discovered inside Rebeika Powell’s apartment at the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue. Each woman was bound and shot in the back of the head.
Separate trial dates for the men have been postponed several times this year. As attorneys prepared for the cases to be heard in October, prosecutors discovered the Tulsa Police Department failed to deliver some of its investigative records from the case to District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler’s 0ffice.
The revelation contributed to a building sense of unease for Charon Powell, mother of 23-year-old twins Rebeika Powell and Kayetie Powell Melchor. Her concerns compelled her to contact state Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, she said.
She pointed to the mishandled evidence, a judge’s order to deny additional DNA tests and a cigarette butt found at the crime scene as among some of the problems she’s identified within the homicide investigation and pending court case.
“I beg you to help me knock on every door, explore every avenue and overturn every rock for not only Rebeika and Kayetie but the other victims, Misty Nunley and Julie Jackson as well,” she wrote to Pruitt.
“All of these women were beloved mothers, sisters and friends to many.”
Powell told The Frontier she feels the victims’ voices have been forgotten in the pre-trial legal proceedings.
She received no response from Pruitt’s office for several weeks. Shortly after The Frontier contacted Pruitt’s office about the letter, Powell heard from a representative of the attorney general.
Powell said she was told they would be unable to help her and recommended she contact Kunzweiler about her concerns, which she found disappointing.
Lincoln Ferguson, Pruitt’s deputy press secretary, told The Frontier: “Although the Attorney General’s Office has some authority to intervene in a district court case, our office has confidence in the Tulsa County District Attorney’s capabilities and integrity. Only in rare instances does the Attorney General’s Office intervene in district court matters.”
A mother’s eye
A gruesome part of the evidence in the murder case against the Poores is bloody crime scene photos of Rebeika Powell’s bedroom.
In preparation for trial, Kunzweiler’s office called Charon Powell in to review the photos. The district attorney’s office tries to limit some of the shock and emotion of trial for violent crime victims’ families by sharing certain information, including crime scene photos, in advance.
Aside from the women themselves, little seemed to be out of place in the bedroom except for a cigarette butt stamped out on a dresser, Powell said.
She immediately noticed the cigarette butt was folded over and as a smoker herself, she knew that habit was generally associated with a male smoker. It had also been extinguished directly on the furniture, another red flag the butt was probably not left by her daughters or one of their guests.
She said she urged Kunzweiler to have the butt tested and never heard any more about it, nor was the butt discussed in subsequent court proceedings regarding DNA evidence in the case. However, the issue continued to stand out in her mind and she mentioned it in her letter.
After a status conference for the case last week, Powell said she was told the cigarette butt tested positive for James Poore’s DNA.
“I’m tickled about it,” she said of the results.
Kunzweiler said he’s barred from discussing the findings while the criminal case is still pending.
Powell said she saw James Poore in a new light afterward and was overcome with “a really sick feeling.”
“(You’re) looking at a human being and thinking, ‘How could you do that?’”
She’s also pushed for further tests on a DNA sample from the women’s bindings that could not exclude as a contributor a previous person of interest in the case who isn’t either of the Poore brothers.
At a prior court appearance, the state discussed the cost of additional testing by an out-of-state laboratory — several thousand dollars — and the possibility of splitting the expense between the District Attorney’s Office and funds allotted to the defendants’ attorneys. District Judge Kurt Glassco denied the request as it didn’t pertain to the defendants directly.
Glassco, chief judge of Tulsa County’s Probate Division, inherited the case after its original judge, William Kellough, lost his bid for re-election in 2014.
After a motion for severance was granted, Kellough set separate trial dates in January and February 2015, which Glassco moved to May, and then October.
With James Poore’s case scheduled to begin Oct. 19, only days remained when prosecutors announced certain information from the police investigation wasn’t relayed to them.
Ultimately, police turned over an additional 38 computer discs from the investigation’s “earliest stages” before James and Cedric Poore were determined to be suspects, Kunzweiler said.
“It necessarily delayed the trial,” he said.
Prosecutors are legally obligated to provide investigative findings and evidence to the defense in all criminal cases.
Kunzweiler denied without hesitation any implication that detectives deliberately withheld the records.
“(The case’s original lead) Detective Hill was devastated by the realization that the information he thought we had in fact had not been turned over,” Kunzweiler said.
Hill transferred out of the detective division 2014 and is currently a patrol officer. Defense attorneys questioned Hill about the evidence at a conditional examination proceeding earlier this month.
District Court Judge Kurt Glassco has also assessed a $5,216 fee against the Tulsa Police Department for the oversight.
The bottom line
Powell also believes, but is vexed by the thought, that finances are part of the reason her pleas went unanswered.
A Nov. 16 email from Court Administrator Vicki Cox to Glassco, as filed with a Nov. 18 order he wrote, listed expenditures for both men’s defense teams — currently a total of four court-appointed private attorneys — at $40,174.
Nearly $21,500 has been paid to private investigators, more than $8,000 was spent on forensic psychologists and $2,011 had been paid for hearing transcripts at that point. About $8,100 was spent on death penalty mitigation and sentencing expenses before prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty.
John David Echols, one of Cedric Poore’s attorneys, linked investigators to a defendant’s right to effective representation and referred to the state’s expenses as “massive.”
Kunzweiler said since his prosecutors carry hundreds of cases at a time he’s unable to break down his office’s expenses for a particular case.
Including the work hours for law enforcement officers and fees for other people who might be called to testify as well as discovery fees for evidence, Echols speculated the state has “spent a small fortune” on the case.
To Powell, the cost shouldn’t matter when lives have been lost, she said.
“It’s like the defendants are being taken care of more so than the people who got killed,” she said.