No parole decision made on Lexington woman who killed 5

Powell took part in 1986 killing spree

jhewlett@herald-leader.comApril 14, 2011 

FRANKFORT — Tina Marie Hickey Powell, convicted of five counts of murder for her part in a sensational killing spree in Lexington in 1986, must wait until Monday to find out whether she will be paroled.

Powell, 52, appeared Wednesday before two members of the nine-member state parole board at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley, where she is being held.

The two board members, Larry Chandler and Shannon Jones, decided they wanted to deny parole and wanted more than five years to pass before Powell comes up for parole again. Under state guidelines, because they wanted more than five years to pass, the full parole board must vote on the matter. That is scheduled to happen Monday.

Before making their decision, Chandler and Jones peppered Powell with questions about the night in April 1986 when Powell and LaFonda Fay Foster killed five people. The victims were shot, stabbed and run over with a car. Some were burned when the car was later set on fire. The victims were found in various locations in east Lexington. Powell and Foster were convicted in March 1987 for the murders of Carlos Kearns, 73; his wife, Virginia Kearns, 45; their housekeeper, Trudy Harrell, 59; Theodore Sweet, 53; and Roger Keene, 47.

On Wednesday, Powell told the parole board members she didn't remember everything that happened that night because she and Foster had been using cocaine and drinking for about a week before the murders.

"It was a tragedy. I've never spoke of it in 25 years," Powell said.

Powell was in her late 20s and the mother of four when she and Foster, who had been lovers, committed the murders. Powell told the jury during their murder trial in 1987 that she dropped out of school in the seventh grade and had had a string of boyfriends who beat her. A clinical psychologist told the jury that Powell had an IQ of 78, which borders on retardation, and had begun using drugs and alcohol at a young age.

Chandler, who had a written narrative of the crime spree, asked Powell to walk him and Jones through the events of the night of the killings.

Powell responded "I don't know" or "I don't remember" to many of the questions she was asked about the killings.

"Fay shot them, and I stabbed them," she said, adding that the knife she used came from Foster.

"I knew if I didn't participate that I would be dead too," Powell told Jones and Chandler.

Powell said she and Foster had gone to the Kearns' Lexington apartment to get money from Carlos Kearns, whom both women knew. Kearns, an Air Force veteran who was partially disabled, his wife and Harrell were at the apartment when Foster and Powell arrived. Sweet and Keene arrived later, she said.

At one point, Virginia Kearns, upset by the women's presence, left the apartment to call police. Officers came to the apartment, then left after Foster and Powell agreed to leave, Chandler read from the narrative. But the women didn't leave; instead, they went to the apartment complex's parking lot and drank whiskey with others, whom Powell said she didn't know.

Later, Powell, Foster and the five victims got into a car. Powell said she thought they were going to get some money. She said Foster brought a gun she had taken from Carlos Kearns.

The five people went "very willingly" with "two women and one little gun," Powell said. Foster drove.

The group stopped at a bait shop, where Carlos Kearns cashed a $25 check. They went to a liquor store, where Foster obtained some bullets after telling the store manager she was going to shoot rats. Foster drove to a fast-food place but drove off before getting any food, Chandler read from the narrative.

Chandler asked Powell about the five victims eventually being forced out of the car and onto the ground. Powell said they weren't forced. Chandler said they had a gun pointed at them.

"They got out of the car, they laid down, and they were shot," Powell said.

Chandler pointed out that Powell stabbed her victims numerous times.

"Were you in a rage?" he asked her.

"I assume I was," Powell said.

Powell blamed the killings on drugs and said she had destroyed her relationship with her family. She said her children were living with her mother.

"I think me and Fay had a lot of issues," Powell said. "Everything I touched I destroyed, and I just didn't care."

Powell apologized for the pain she had put people through and said if she could take back what had happened she would.

"In my mind, I was just trying to survive the night," she said, adding that she wasn't thinking of consequences, such as jail.

"Fay is very violent," Powell said.

"What about Tina?" Jones asked.

"Obviously I was that night," Powell said.

The killings drew national attention, and Foster, who has been described as Lexington's most infamous killer, became the inspiration for a locally produced film that garnered critical acclaim at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.

Powell was sentenced to life in prison for one of the murders and life in prison without the possibility for parole for 25 years for the other four. Wednesday marked her first parole hearing.

Foster received a death sentence, but the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned it in the early 1990s. She is now serving life without the possibility of parole at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Lyon County. Prosecutors wanted both women to receive the death penalty.

Powell has an extensive prison disciplinary history. According to the state Department of Corrections, she has committed 123 major disciplinary violations. Powell has been moved in and out of several prisons, including facilities in Florida and Oklahoma.

While in prison, Powell said, she has taken the anti-depressant Prozac and Tegretol, which is an anti-convulsant that is also used to treat bipolar disorder and other ailments. She indicated that drugs were a problem in prison and said pills could be obtained for $1 apiece. She blamed her prison drug abuse for keeping her out of a treatment program that requires 90 days of sobriety before it accepts a participant.

Powell completed requirements for a high school equivalency diploma in 1988 while incarcerated.

Powell said she wanted to be released from prison to be with her 76-year-old mother, who lives in Lexington.

"She needs me home," she said. "I'm not sure I have earned it, but she has."

Powell said that, with her criminal history, she wasn't sure that anyone would hire her but that her family would help her out.

Chandler told Powell that her 25 years in prison amounted to five years per victim.

"Do you think that's fair?" he asked.

"No sir," Powell said. But she added that she wanted to be given a chance.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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