Paris Powell was born in Indiana. He was one of four children; his single mother made him a ward of the state when he was 5 years old. Powell was in and out of trouble as early as age 8. At age 18 when he left Rader Juvenile Detention Center in Oklahoma, he was cared for by gang members. Never a gang member himself, some associated him with gang activity because of this connection. A Rader field trip to Northeastern Oklahoma Community College connected him with football there. He attended the community college the following fall, played football, was president of Russell Hall dorm, and was on the presidential advisory board. Though he attended college for less than two semesters, he considers that time a miracle for him, as it got him off of the streets.
On the night of June 24, 1993, in Oklahoma City, Okla., 14-year-old Shauna Farrow walked home from a party with 17-year-old Derrick Smith. As a hatchback car passed by, the driver’s side door opened, and the driver and a passenger opened fire, killing Farrow and injuring Smith. Smith, who was facing charges for drug trafficking, was questioned by the police about the identity of the shooters. At first he gave inconsistent reports, but eventually he implicated Yancy Douglas and Paris Powell. Douglas and Powell were charged with the crimes in August 1993. Paris had just turned 20.
The two men were tried separately, almost two years apart. Smith was the key witness at both trials, identifying Douglas and Powell as the shooters, and stating that he received no special deals from prosecutors in exchange for his testimony. Both men were convicted and sentenced to death – Douglas in October 1995, and Powell in May 1997.
Attorneys for Douglas and Powell appealed the convictions, but received no relief. Then, in 2001, Smith wrote an affidavit recanting his testimony against Douglas and Powell. He stated that he had been drunk and high on the night of the shooting, and was unable to identify the shooters, but police had coerced him into naming Douglas and Powell and offered a reduced sentence for his drug trafficking charges.
Attorneys presented this new evidence to various courts, and after a series of unsuccessful challenges, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals District vacated the convictions in 2009. Prosecutors decided not to retry the case, and on October 4, 2009, all charges were dropped and Douglas and Powell were released from prison.
In 2013, the attorney who prosecuted Powell and Douglas was suspended for 180 days by Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the prosecutor had abused the subpoena process to force witnesses to cooperate, failed to disclose evidence to the defense and obstructed the defense’s access to evidence.