Sounds of weeping echoed in the courtroom Thursday afternoon as a jury convicted DeShawn Powell of voluntary manslaughter for the 2010 stabbing death of a Jamison Avenue man.
The family of victim Arthur Riley, 69, seated in three rows of the courtroom, listened as the verdict was read.
Circuit Court Judge Ed Dickson sentenced the 26-year-old Powell to 30 years in prison, with credit for time served.
Authorities say he stabbed Riley 42 times after beating him at his residence in 2010. Powell was charged with murder in the attack, but the jury chose to convict him of voluntary manslaughter instead.
Powell did not cry but shook his head periodically as he listened to Riley’s family members describe a loving though imperfect father and husband.
“Even though we were separated for a number of years, he was still the father of my children,” Lottie Riley said. “As long as he was alive, there was hope that he might change his life around. But when someone takes that life, he has no more hope.”
She told Powell the incident would perhaps change his life.
“Something good can still come out of it,” she said. “It is not too late as long as you are breathing and alive. You can always change from a bad decision and move forward and make a right decision.”
Claude Riley, the victim’s youngest son, said he got married shortly after his father’s death.
“My father never saw any of his sons get married. He was going to see me get married and walk down the aisle. You took that away. I can’t get it back,” he told Powell.
He said his father’s 5-year-old grandson will graduate from pre-kindergarten in two weeks.
“Our father could not even make that,” Riley said. “I am going through a lot of emotions — some angry, some confused. I hope the Lord has mercy on your soul.”
Jurors deliberated for 4-1/2 half hours before returning with the voluntary manslaughter decision.
During the deliberation period, jurors re-entered the courtroom in the Orangeburg County Courthouse to listen again to the taped testimony of a forensic pathologist who testified Wednesday.
Within 15 minutes after hearing this testimony again, the jury delivered its verdict.
The defense’s motions for a directed verdict and a new trial were denied by Dickson.
Defense attorney Peggy Hinds, on behalf of Powell, said her client offered the family his condolences and his prayers.
“We would the ask the court for mercy,” Hinds said.
Prosecutor Don Sorenson said the voluntary manslaughter charge will require Powell to serve 85 percent of the sentence before being eligible for any kind of release.
With time served, Sorenson said Powell will most likely serve at least another 24 years.
“He will never be up for parole,” Sorenson said.
Officials say Powell and Riley got into a fight at Riley’s residence during the early morning hours of Nov. 3, 2010 and Powell ended up stabbing Riley to death. The stab wounds penetrated Riley’s lungs and heart, causing him to bleed to death.
At the time of the 2010 incident, Powell was out on bond on a 2005 murder charge. That charge is still pending.
Prior to the verdict and sentencing, both the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments.
The prosecution painted Powell as a man who attacked Riley on that Nov. 3 night, determined to enter into Riley’s house to sell drugs. The Jamison Avenue residence was used as a crack house, they say.
“He cut Riley 42 times and left him to die on that floor,” Sorenson told jurors, frequently showing them pictures of the wounds Riley suffered. “I can’t think of a greater act of malice than the beating and stabbing death of an old man.”
Sorenson noted that the testimony of witnesses and a bloody knife found on Powell’s porch pointed to Powell.
The defense acknowledged that Riley and Powell got into a fight, but insisted that Powell went to bed that night and did not kill Riley.
“This investigation has not gone far enough,” Hinds said, suggesting another person entered Riley’s residence that night, possibly attempted to rob him, then killed him.
Hinds said Powell’s DNA and fingerprints were not found at the scene. She said the witnesses presented were unreliable.
“It is a tragedy that Mr. Riley lost his life. Nobody wishes that on him ... but it will be another tragedy if the defendant today is convicted for something he didn’t do,” Hinds said.
While Arthur Travis Riley, the victim’s oldest son, described his father as a man with some issues, he said he was a good man, too.
“I miss my father,” he said. “My father would have taught me to forgive you. I am not there yet. I hope I can one day. I feel like my father was ambushed. He was attacked. I wish I was there.”
He said his father marched in the civil rights era to help black men have rights.
“He helped you get freedom, and you threw that away,” he told Powell. “I pray for you, but right now it is hard.”
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