A former Vancouver man will not return to prison after serving almost 25 years for murdering an elderly Hazel Dell woman, a crime he committed when he was only 16 years old.
Instead, Anthony Powers will spend a few more years on parole after a judge resentenced him Monday to 29 years, rather than his original 77-year prison sentence.
Powers was previously declared eligible for parole under what’s being called Washington’s “Miller-fix” statute. He was released from custody in September 2019.
Powers co-founded a behavioral health program called the Redemption Project while incarcerated and has worked on various programs and with individuals to lower recidivism. His attorney says he’s never met anyone who’s done more to prevent future crime than Powers, and said his client is the perfect example of what the case law means when it says juveniles are capable of change.
On Monday, Powers was back in court for the judge to ultimately decide how much time he will spend on parole. Returning to prison was not an option.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case Miller v. Alabama, finding that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. In response, the Washington Legislature in 2014 passed a parole statute that presumptively releases youth after serving a minimum of 20 years, unless the parole board finds they are more likely than not to commit a future crime if released.
According to Columbian archives, Powers and his older brother, Bryan, broke into the home of 82-year-old Petra Johnson on the night of Oct. 10, 1993, to steal valuables to finance a trip to California. When Johnson awoke, they strangled her, put her body in the trunk of her car and drove to a park east of Troutdale, Ore., to dispose of her. They were arrested by a Multnomah County sheriff’s deputy on routine patrol.
How long is long enough?
On Monday, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Colin Hayes argued that Powers should spend the remainder of his original sentence on parole.
“Given the pretty horrendous facts of the case, I think it’s more than reasonable to maintain parole for the rest of the sentence,” Hayes said, adding that Powers’ actions had a “tremendous affect” on the victim and her family, and said that Powers was already given a break due to his youth when he was paroled.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Ellis described the situation as unprecedented. He said, as far as he knows, this is the first time someone has been resentenced after being granted parole under the Miller-fix statute.
“On behalf of Mr. Powers, we express our deepest sympathies,” Ellis told the court. “What happened to (Petra Johnson) was unjustifiable; it was deplorable. … He will bear that burden for the rest of his life.”
Ellis asked the judge for a sentence in the middle of the standard range – 311 months, or almost 26 years.
“Let me make it clear, we’re not asking to allow Mr. Powers to leave today without any supervision,” he said.
Instead, the defense asked for 20 months of community placement, “equal to the length of supervision that the (Indeterminate Sentence Review Board) thought was appropriate.”
Ellis further asked that Powers not be on parole after successful completion of community placement. If placed on parole, he’d face restrictions on travel, and could be sent back to prison for any violation.
Ellis spoke of the work Powers has done to turn his life around and to assist other felons who want to start a new, better life for themselves.
“It strikes me that what’s most important in his journey to transformation is not the number of programs he created or was involved in or the number of individuals he’s assisted toward redemption, but his motivation for that. Why does he do what he is doing?” Ellis told the court.
Reforming his life
When given the chance to speak, Powers said he’s waited years to be able to apologize to Johnson’s family.
During his incarceration, Powers lost loved ones to homicide, he said, which only heightened his sense of guilt and shame, because he then understood what Johnson’s family went through.
After his best friend was killed in 2004, he made a vow to turn his life around, he said.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what (Johnson’s) family went through or what I went through,” he said.
Johnson’s family members, who spoke via Zoom or through a victim advocate, acknowledged Powers’ positive growth.
In her victim’s impact statement, Johnson’s granddaughter wrote: “I applaud and recognize his continued work, and it helps me to feel like my grandmother’s horrific and senseless death has been given some meaning.”
Still, she said it would be “wildly inappropriate” to grant Powers full autonomy. She argued parole would give Powers time to gain his bearings and allow her family more time to heal.
Judge Daniel Stahnke apologized to the Johnson family for its pain and acknowledged family members will probably never understand what happened with Powers’ case due to changes in the law.
Still, he said he was not persuaded by the prosecution’s argument that Powers should be held to his original sentence, and instead sentenced him to about 29 years – with any remaining unserved prison time converted to parole.
Hayes, the prosecutor, said after the hearing he was unsure how the time Powers will spend on parole would be calculated.