I have stated before that when I am working my way down the list that I have created I often come across clusters of cases that are similar in nature. This has proven true once again. Just this morning I finished a blog in which the crime was in Evansville, Indiana and now I have this one. In fact, I have another one researched to be composed later. This case, like the other one from the area I recent did touches on the subject of mental illness but it also left some other questions to ponder. And, despite so many convicted criminals appealing on grounds of ineffective counsel, this is one of the few cases in which it seems to be a legitimate complaint.
In November of 1992 Vincent Prowell moved to Evansville from Chicago. It is unclear if his mother, Karen Johnson was already here with her boyfriend Edward Cooper and Vincent moved in with them or they all moved together. Although Vincent was twenty-eight years old at the time of his move it was stated later that he had never lived on his own.
In April of 1993 Johnson and Cooper were arrested on drug charges. They would eventually be convicted on charges of dealing in cocaine or another narcotic and serve prison time. It seems that likely while they were awaiting their trials they helped set Vincent up in an apartment of his own.
On the night of May 27, 1993 twenty-two year old Denis Powers, who happened to be Vincent's neighbor was sitting in the parking lot of the apartment complex in her car waiting on her friend, twenty-two year old Chris Fillbright. When Fillbright got to the car and opened the door Vincent came up behind him and shot him in the back of the head. Vincent then shot into the car hitting Powers. She was shot shot in the face and in the back. Vincent then left the scene apparently in his own car, even running over Fillbright in the process.
Another person in the complex had been a witness to the shooting and identified Vincent as the shooting. According to the witness, Joann Rose, no words were exchanged between Vincent or the victims and he had just taken off. Vincent was captured a few hours later in Benton County Indiana. While it was not said in the research that I found I would gander to guess that Vincent was likely on his way back to the Chicago area as this would be the quickest way to go from Evansville. Inside his car the weapon that was used and matching ammunition was found.
For the most part Vincent admitted to the murders. He would claim however that he had seen Fillbright near the mailbox area of the complex earlier in the day and they had a confrontation. He would claim that Fillbright had used racial slurs towards him and he had felt threatened when Fillbright had given him a “military look” early in the day. Fillbright was in fact a military veteran but this claims were never substantiated, nor did they seem plausible.
It was reported that Vincent had never been treated for any mental illness but those around him said that he had something “seriously wrong” with him. They would claim that he talked to himself quite often, even talking to the television after it had been turned off, that he responded strangely to questions and often expressed fear and felt threatened, unreasonably, by others. Now, I know this sounds like a cop-out from a family that wants to get their family member the lightest sentence possible. And, maybe that is true. However, I can tell you from experience that is not always the case. My husband comes from a family in which mental health issue flow as easily as water it seems at times. Some are worse than others and sometimes you may seen signs with someone but either you are too busy working with or worrying about the “sicker” one in the family or they do not seem as serious so you pass things off. Then when they do something criminal you really were not expecting it. As my husband told the police once about his brother, “We knew he was crazy but we never knew it would go this far.” So in defense to the family, and knowing I have been there myself I cannot say that what they were claiming after he had committed murder is not true. It does not lessen what he did or absolve him from any responsibility for his actions. But, as I stated in an earlier blog this is a reason, not an excuse.
At any rate, so here Vincent is arrested and charged with the murders of Powers and Fillbright. A week later the court appointed two attorneys, Dennis Vowels and Michael Danks, who worked part time for the public defenders office to represent Vincent. Two weeks after that the prosecutor announced the state planned to seek the death penalty. A trial was set to begin January 31, 1994.
On January 14, 1994 Vincent pleaded guilty, but he did so without any sort of plea bargain agreed to. On May 5, 1994 Vincent Prowell was sentenced to death.
When I research a case I simply put some key words in a search engine and work my way down. For this case the first thing that came up was Murderpedia, which if you search true crimes on a regular basis as I do then you are familiar with the site. Vincent's profile was a bit different on that site as there really was very little information on it belong the normal statistics available. It did say that in January of 2001 his sentence had been commuted to life. To be fair while the information that his sentence was commuted is accurate, in January of 2001 he was actually ordered a new trial by the courts. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections website he was resentenced in March of 2002 and he received two fifty year sentences, to run consecutively, meaning one after the other. The next thing that I came across in my research was one of the things that I like best when researching a case.... an appeal.
In 2001 Vincent had filed an appeal with the state. It appears this had not been his first one, as his others had been denied, but this was the important one. Appeals almost always lay out the history of the crime, the testimony in court and much more accurate details then you will find even in a blog such as mine, or newspaper articles. I rely on them as often as I can to get accurate information and this was one that did not fail me. It appears that prior to the appeal being heard, great detail was given into the claims and hearings were held with the court. The main complaint in the 2001 appeal centered around the claim of ineffective counsel during the guilty and penalty phases in this case.
It would be nice if everyone who commits a crime openly admitted it and pleaded guilty. It saves time and money and resources. But, the reality of it is that every case and defendant is different and if we started cookie cutting cases then justice would be lost both to the victims and the defendants. I realize there are those who feel that murderers and other convicted criminals do not deserve much of anything but we cannot allow that to be the norm in our justice system. The first thing that I had found odd before I had gotten very far in this case was the fact that Vincent had pleaded guilty in a death penalty case and still received the death penalty. I am unsure I have ever heard of such a case. Sure, murderers plead guilty quite often in death penalty cases but in general it is done to get death “off the table.” I questioned why someone would plead guilty and accept the death penalty when if the case had gone to trial there was at least a chance that they would not get the death penalty and there would be more of an opportunity to present mitigating factors. Also, this was not a guilty, but mentally ill plea or a guilty, but insane plea. This was simply a guilty plea.
The 2001 appeal ruled that the argument against ineffective counsel was valid and they laid out their reasons. According to the appeal prior to Vincent's plea in January of 1994 his attorney, Dennis Vowels had approached the prosecutors attempting to make a deal. He had attempted to offer a guilty plea in exchange for two consecutive sentences of sixty years. The prosecutor declined. This occurred on December 22, 1993. Three weeks later Vincent would enter his guilty plea without any sort of agreement. Sentencing was set to be in March.
A week after pleading guilty Vowels reached out to a mitigation investigator for the first time. They then asked the court for a continuation of the sentencing hearing as so the investigator would have time to basically do his job. They were granted a six week continuance until April 20th. It was not until March 20, 1994, some five weeks after getting the continuance that the defense first met with a psychologist and asked for an evaluation of their client. Keep in mind that this is now three weeks from sentencing some ten months since they had begun to represent him. The psychologist, Joel Dill, did testify at the sentencing hearing that Vincent suffered from paranoid personality disorder, but in the realm of things it was considered to be a “minor disorder.”
The courts ruled that although the attorneys that had represented him indicated or believed that he did suffer from some sort of mental disorder they not only had not contacted anyone to have him evaluated for nearly a year, and over two months after they had allowed him to plead guilty. The courts pointed out that the plea had not even included anything about his mental ability. The court was not arguing whether Vincent did in fact have a mental illness, that was not their job. They did believe, and I believe accurately, that his attorneys had not fulfilled their jobs in providing him an adequate defense.
After the appeals court ruled that Vincent was entitled to a new trial it appears that instead another plea agreement was made of some sort. In the new agreement Vincent pleaded guilty but mentally ill and prior to seeing the judge the agreement stated there was a cap of 100 years to be given, meaning he could get no more than that. Well, in essence that is what he got as the new sentence gave him two fifty year sentences. According to the Department of Corrections his first sentence ends in July of 2018 to which he begins the second. His first chance at parole is in July of 2043.
But, the case does not necessarily end there. Another appeal was filed in 2003 and while it was denied and the conviction and sentence were affirmed I still mention it here due to comments made by the court. The appeal stated that although he had pleaded guilty but mentally ill and the agreement had allowed up to 100 years, which he received that his mental illness was not only not considered to be a mitigating factor but an aggravating one. Basically what that means is that through his attorneys he was arguing that the fact that he had a mental illness had not worked to help him but to harm him and that it was because of the, at least possibility that he had a mental illness that got him more time, not less. The court ruled that this was not an area in which they dealt with as the sentencing judge had the discretion to treat any factors in the way that they saw fit and impose a sentence to their liking as long as it was within the realm of the law.