Mother recounts the shooting death of her 15-year-old son
August 9, 2014 12:11 AM
Vicky Powell, the mother of 15-year-old LeRoy Powell, talks about her son’s death. After testifying in the preliminary hearing against a friend accused of shooting a pregnant teen and killing her unborn child — and the release to the media of his video-recorded police interrogation — the 15-year-old Powell was shot and killed.
Paula Reed Ward and Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For six days, LeRoy Powell had barely left his Duquesne home.
After testifying July 30 in the preliminary hearing against a friend accused of shooting a pregnant teen and killing her unborn child — and the release to the media of his video-recorded police interrogation — the 15-year-old was receiving threats over social media, and even told his mom he thought he should get a gun.
But just after 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, he received a call from a girl and immediately ran down the steps and out his front door.
Vicky Powell talks about her son's shooting
Vicky Powell talks about the days leading up to her son's shooting in Duquesne. (Video by Michael Henninger; 8/9/2014)
His mother, Vicky Powell, saw him leave, but when she heard a series of gunshots five minutes later, she instinctively called to another son, “Where’s LeRoy?”
Knowing he had left the house, she immediately jumped in her car, and drove about two blocks away to where the sound had come from.
She saw the body of a boy lying in an alley. At first, she thought to herself that it couldn’t be LeRoy because he hadn’t been wearing a red shirt.
Then she realized the shirt was covered in blood. And she recognized the waistband of the boy’s underwear. And his shoes.
She screamed so loudly that her older son still at home heard her.
“It’s something I never will forget,” she said. “They killed my son. They targeted him.
“And then they say they want witnesses to come forward, and this is what they get.
“They get killed.”
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On May 26, DaRae Delgado, 15, heard a knock on the door of her family’s Friendship Avenue home. When she asked who was there, she received no response. When she opened the door, she was shot four times, including in the abdomen. She was 31 weeks’ pregnant. DaRae survived, but the baby died.
About two weeks later, Allegheny County police arrested 15-year-old Eric Taylor. Among the evidence they had against him was the taped interview given by LeRoy.
In that recording, the incoming West Mifflin sophomore said he was with Eric the night of the shooting and saw his friend with a small pistol.
But when he testified in court last week, LeRoy said he heard gunshots but did not see his friend with a gun.
“I think LeRoy has seen the gun,” his mother said. “But they were threatening his life. I would have taken it back, too. What was he supposed to do?”
To supplement the record — and ensure the charges against Eric were bound over to Common Pleas Court — deputy district attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni played the video at the hearing.
Typically under the law, that meant that it became available to the public, and must be released upon request. It is a regular practice in Allegheny County for photographs, videos and other documentation to be made available to the media.
LeRoy’s video was, and it aired that evening on local television stations and was posted on the Post-Gazette’s website.
“It was flooded — on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,” said Mia Meredith, LeRoy’s cousin. “That whole broadcast went viral instantly. Not a day later. Instantly.”
Threats over social media began to pour in, and Ms. Powell called the county homicide office.
She described what was happening, and there was a brief discussion, she said, about her son going into protective custody. Prior to the preliminary hearing, she continued, it was never discussed.
Ms. Powell asked if she would have to give up her house.
“He said, ‘Yeah, you’d have to move because he’s underage,’ ” she said.
Nothing more came of the conversation, she continued, other than the detective telling her to call him back if there were any more threats.
Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt would not discuss talks about LeRoy specifically but said his department offers protection, including relocation and some financial support, to witnesses who agree to testify in court.
Sometimes, the department offers it outright. Other times, the process begins when witnesses ask for help.
Protection can start after a person's first interview with investigators or later in the judicial process.
But sometimes witnesses are reluctant to uproot their lives.
“At some point they have to step up,” Superintendent Moffatt said.
He would not discuss any specific threats made to LeRoy, saying if they had been made, they would be a part of the police investigation. Police have not arrested anyone in LeRoy's death and have not commented on whether they think it was tied to his testimony.
“I think I can tell you that, generally speaking, if we know, or it’s brought to our attention, or we even think that a witness’s ... well-being or life is in danger, we would offer protective relocation," the superintendent said.
Ms. Powell said she also discussed with LeRoy the possibility of moving elsewhere with relatives. “He said, ‘I’ll think about it, Mom.’’’
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LeRoy and his mother left the preliminary hearing quickly after it ended, and did not speak with the prosecutor again.
They didn’t know that the interrogation video would be released to the media after the hearing — especially given that he was a 15-year-old boy.
“Why didn’t someone call and tell her?” asked Lena Henderson, a criminal defense attorney and family friend. “Somebody should have warned her.”
“If I would have known, I would have done something,” Ms. Powell said.
Superintendent Moffatt said the district attorney’s office generally makes decisions about whether to release videos of statements played in court and often consults with his department. He did not know whether anyone in his department spoke with the prosecution prior to releasing LeRoy’s interview.
“I didn't even [know],” Superintendent Moffatt said, until he saw the video on the news.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said, “Looking back, there should have been a stronger effort to communicate the consequences of playing the video as part of the court proceeding,” he said.
LeRoy’s family understands that anyone in court the day of the preliminary hearing would have known that LeRoy testified, and that he spoke to the police.
But to have the video shown on television — and repeatedly online afterward — makes it worse, they said.
“For somebody to actually see his face and hear his voice telling word for word what happened, that’s different,” Ms. Meredith said. “They already knew. I get that. But now they have to honor their teenage gangster life.”
“It just fueled the fire,” Ms. Henderson added. “We all know by being in this community, that put an ‘X’ on his head. Why they didn’t think this would occur, I don’t understand. This mother wanted to do the right thing. What message does this send?”
Ms. Henderson said that if she knew the police wanted to question LeRoy in the Delgado shooting, she would have explained the potential consequences of it, as she does with her own clients.
“He was marked a snitch in this community,” Ms. Henderson said. “He doesn’t live in Mt. Lebanon. He’s not a white boy. He’s not wealthy. And now this woman has to bury her child.”
But, Ms. Powell said she allowed her son to give the statement because it was the right thing to do.
“The girl deserved justice,” she said. “The baby deserved justice. If [Eric] did it, he deserves to go to jail. If it was LeRoy, himself, he has to pay. I told him to tell the truth.
“It cost him his life.”
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-1438 or on Twitter: @LizNavratil. Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.