Mary Black Gladden was an employee of The Pantry on Charles Road in Shelby, North Carolina. She was killed on October 31, 1991, while on duty at The Pantry. On that day between 3:15 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., Scott Truelove bought $5 worth of gasoline at The Pantry. Later he would state that while paying at the counter, he stood near a “rough-looking man with unkempt, shoulder-length hair, facial hair, and a tattoo on his left forearm.” The next morning, November 1, Truelove stated that he had read about the murder and gave a description of the man to Captain Ledbetter of the Shelby Police Department. On November 16, Truelove identified Powell as the man by picking him out of a photographic lineup. Prior to the identification, Truelove was made aware that there was a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Gladden’s killer. At approximately 4:15 a.m. on October 31, Clarissa Epps stopped at The Pantry to buy gasoline. She went in to pay for her purchase and after waiting in vain for a clerk to appear, called out but received no answer. Epps, after seeing Gladden lying in blood behind the counter, drove home and called police.
On October 31, in response to a radio dispatch, Officer Mark Lee of the Shelby Police Department arrived at The Pantry at 4:26 a.m. Lee first ensured that all customers had left the store and then found Gladden behind the counter. She was lying on her back in a pool of blood with her head toward the cash register and her hands at her sides. Lee noticed injuries to her left eye and ear as well as other injuries to her head. He also saw a one-dollar bill on the floor near her left foot and another on the counter. Dr. Stephen Tracey, who performed the autopsy, testified that Gladden had numerous lacerations on her head and that her skull was fractured in several places. Gladden’s nose was broken and her left eye had been displaced by a fracture to the bone behind it. Her brain had hemorrhaged, was bruised and lacerated in several places, and contained skull fragments. Tracey determined that blunt trauma to the head caused Gladden’s death and that she died from the trauma before she lost a fatal amount of blood. He also concluded that human hands had not inflicted the wounds, surmising from their size and shape that the perpetrator had used a lug-nut wrench, a tire wrench, or possibly a pipe.
Mark Stewart, an employee of The Pantry, testified that he worked on both October 27 and November 1. On October 27, Stewart saw a tire tool behind the counter to the side of the cash register. The tool had lain there for approximately one year. It was curved on one end with a round hole for a lug nut and was split on the other end for hubcap removal. Stewart noticed that the tool was missing when he worked on November 1. This could not be confirmed as the store was still closed on November 1, the day after Gladden was killed. Thomas Tucker, a district manager of The Pantry, testified that he arrived at The Pantry sometime after 6:00 a.m. on October 31. He examined the cash register tape for that morning and it showed, among other transactions, a gasoline sale of $5 at 3:29 a.m. and a no-sale at 3:35 a.m. The cash register enters a no-sale when it is opened but no purchase is made. According to the tape, no transaction occurred between the $5 purchase and the no-sale. Tucker opened the register at 6:22 a.m. at the direction of Captain Ledbetter to determine whether any money had been taken during the homicide. He concluded that approximately $48 was missing.
William Powell was a 45 year old, disabled father and a former police officer in Cleveland County. He resided, along with his girlfriend, Lori Yelton, on a dead end road called Locust Street, just off of East Marion in Shelby. Powell walked with a pronounced limp due to a compound ankle fracture which required the surgical insertion of pins, plates and screws. He was a Viet Nam era veteran, and though he never saw combat, he served his country for close to two years in the US Army. He was referred to by his former wife, Marjory Powell, who testified for the defense, as a wonderful father, a gentle person with an infectious sense of humor. She went on to state that in the decade she had known Powell, he had never become violent. While Marjory Powell had physical custody of the children, William Powell kept the three of them on alternating weekends without incident. During her testimony, Marjory Powell also indicated that it was her belief that William Powell was incapable of the crime of which he’d been accused. She cited many examples of his pacifism for the record.
On November 16, Lieutenant Preston Cherka and Officer David Lail drove to Locust Street to find Powell and bring him to the police station for questioning. Powell came out of his home and allowed Cherka to take four photographs of him. He agreed to accompany Cherka and Lail to the police station for questioning as a possible suspect in a murder. Powell was told that he did not have to leave with them, as he was not under arrest at that time. Powell and the officers arrived at the police station at approximately 4:00 p.m., whereupon Cherka began questioning Powell. Powell refused to allow Cherka to tape record the interview as Powell knew Cherka as a colleague and disliked him. Cherka made notes of his own interpretation of the events in the interrogation room shortly after the interview ended. In those notes, Cherka wrote that Powell stated that he had gone to sleep at around 4:00 a.m. on October 31 after drinking with Don Weathers and Powell’s girlfriend, Lori Yelton at the Weathers residence on West Warren Street. Later that morning, Yelton and Powell took Weathers to the hospital in Weathers’ truck due to Weathers having been accidentally hit with a blade during a knife throwing contest at his apartment. On the way to the ER, Weathers changed his mind about going as the wound was superficial and he needed to get back to his child whom he had left alone at home.
Cherka left the interview room and related Powell’s statement to Ledbetter. While Cherka had been questioning Powell, Truelove had identified Powell from a lineup (containing thirty-two photographs) as the man he saw in The Pantry on October 31. Ledbetter informed Cherka of the identification and then accompanied Cherka back into the interview room. Powell again indicated he did not want to be tape-recorded with Cherka present and Ledbetter complied. Ledbetter told Powell about Truelove’s identification and asked him if he wanted an attorney. Powell stated that he had not killed anyone and did not need an attorney. Ledbetter advised Powell of his Miranda rights and Powell signed a waiver of those rights, thereafter continuing to deny involvement in the murder.
Ledbetter then told him he “knew” Powell had killed Gladden and asked, “Why did you kill her?” Powell, weary from hours of questioning, hung his head and answered: “I don’t remember being there.” Powell then asked to speak to Ledbetter alone and Cherka left the room. Ledbetter again asked Powell why he had killed Gladden. Powell stated that “maybe” she had slapped him and “maybe” he had panicked, that he did not recall anything about the crime. Ledbetter indicated that he wanted to speak to Powell off the record. Powell asked him to tear up the Miranda waiver form, which Ledbetter ripped into four pieces. Powell then related what details regarding his whereabouts during the timeframe in which Gladden was killed. At about 6:00 p.m., Powell asked for an attorney and one was contacted for him. Powell was then taken into custody after he conferred with his lawyer and being advised to “tell them what they want to hear” so that he could get some sleep. Powell insisted upon being innocent of the Gladden murder for the remainder of his life, however, he hinted that he was “covering” for someone he knew and that “the truth would come out” once he was gone.
Although no physical evidence of Powell ever having been to the crime scene on or about October, 31, 1991, a Cleveland County jury found Powell guilty of capital murder under the felony murder rule, with robbery as the underlying felony, with only an acquaintance’s word and Powell’s refusal to defend himself. At sentencing, the same jury found that the murder was committed for pecuniary gain without mitigating circumstance, and unanimously recommended the death sentence, again, without hard evidence. Powell asked that the verdict not be appealed but his attorneys and former wife, Marjory Powell, pleaded for mercy on his behalf. On March 10, 2005, Governor Michael F. Easley denied clemency. William Powell was executed via lethal injection at Central Prison in Raleigh, NC on March 11, 2005. He continued to declare his innocence even as he was given the first injection to put him to sleep.
- September, 25, 1946
- March, 11, 2005
- Raleigh, North Carolina
Cause of Death
- execution by lethal injection