COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday found "overwhelming evidence" to support the murder convictions of a former Toledo man as it upheld his death sentences for the 2006 Toledo house fire that killed four people, including two children.
The court, in weighing the sentence, considered Wayne Powell's past growing up in a dysfunctional family as well as his history of drug and alcohol abuse, but in the end it found none of it could outweigh what he did.
"Powell set fire to a home in the middle of the night," wrote Justice Paul Pfeifer. "Eight people were inside the home at the time of the fire, including five children and a disabled woman.
"Powell knew that people were inside the home when he started the fire, because he had been there earlier in the evening," he wrote. "Four people, including two children, died during the fire. These facts establish a senseless, horrific crime that lacks any mitigating features."
The fire at 814 St. John Ave. in the early morning of Nov. 11, 2006, killed Powell's 33-year-old former girlfriend, Mary Rose McCollum; her 4-year-old son, Jamal McCollum-Myers; her 52-year-old ailing mother, Rosemary, and her 3-year-old niece, Sanaa' Thomas.
The Lucas County jury had agreed with the prosecution that Powell, now 46, followed through with prior threats to burn the house where he once lived by pouring gasoline through a crack in a door and then setting the blaze while the victims and several others slept inside.
The court did not accept Powell's arguments of ineffectiveness of counsel and most other issues that his attorneys raised.
But it did agree that several errors had occurred, including the trial court's decision to allow the jury to be shown a videotape in which Isaac Powell told police his brother had admitted to pouring gasoline onto the side of the house. Isaac Powell testified during the trial that he couldn't recall such a statement. Powell's attorneys had maintained that the video was the last thing the jury saw before beginning deliberations and again during deliberations when it asked a question.
But in such areas where the court agreed errors had occurred, it found them to be "harmless errors" that wouldn't have changed the outcome of the case.
"There was overwhelming evidence of guilt," said Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor David Cooper. "We were able to preserve the conviction and sentence despite harmless error."
Among that "overwhelming evidence" were phone records showing a string of 88 calls Wayne Powell made to Mary Rose McCollum from two different phones over several hours, calls that abruptly ended about the time of the fire. Police also discovered gasoline on his clothes.
Mr. Cooper said the case was deserving of the death penalty.
"Four people dead in a horrible way," he said. "Four innocent people, two of them children."
Powell is on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution. He has other state and federal appeals routes available to him, but first his attorneys are expected to ask this court to reconsider this decision.
"We're in the process of studying this decision," said one of his attorneys, Spiros Cocoves. "We do note, however, that the court acknowledged a significant number of errors by the trial court, but found them harmless. We disagree with that."