Marcia Powell's Autopsy Report Rules Cage Death in ADC Custody an "Accident"
The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office has released the autopsy report and toxicology results for Marcia Powell, the 48-year-old woman who died May 20 after being confined to a human cage at Perryville Prison in Goodyear for some four hours in the blazing Arizona sun.
The conclusion of Medical Examiner Mark Fischione is that the cause of death was due to "complications of hyperthermia due to environmental heat exposure." The manner of death is ruled an "accident." You can read the report for yourself, here.
The external examination revealed blistering and first and second degree "thermal injuries" on her upper body, arms and face. Toxicology showed that she tested positive for several medications, including Benztropine, a medication for Parkinson disease, the antipsychotic medication Haloperidol, and valproic acid, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat depression and epilepsy.
Donna Hamm, with the advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform, said her group was concerned with the findings.
"We are trying to reserve judgment until we see everything, including the DOC investigation," said Hamm, whose organization ultimately took custody of Powell's remains, "but the autopsy does seem to raise the question of how far prison officials can go before something they do is ruled a reckless homicide. I guess the county attorney will make that final decision. We will certainly be interested in how this plays out."
Powell was serving a 27-month stint for prostitution at Perryville, when, according to an Arizona Department of Corrections statement released at the time, she was "placed in an outside, uncovered, chain-linked holding cell at 11 a.m.," on a day temperatures reached a 107 degree high.
"At 2:40 p.m., Powell collapsed," the statement continues. "Powell was taken to West Valley Hospital at 3:12 p.m. She was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday [May 20]."
ADC honcho Charles Ryan gave the order for Powell's life support to be suspended on the advice of the physicians on duty, according to him. It was later learned that Powell had a guardian, the Office of the Public Fiduciary. Ryan told me following a memorial service for Powell at Encanto Community Church in Phoenix that he did not know Powell had a guardian when he gave the order suspending life support and that ADC had no record of a guardian in its files.
The fiduciary's office undertook an extensive investigation seeking a next of kin to take possession of Powell's remains. Powell's adoptive mother Joanne Buck, 76, of La Quinta, California was located by the fiduciary, but she said she'd had "very little contact" over the years with Powell, most of which was unpleasant. She told the fiduciary that she didn't want to take custody of Powell's remains.
Other leads on the whereabouts of Powell's family did not pan out for the fiduciary. A son turned up having been murdered. A daughter was adopted by family in Tempe, but there was no indication as to where the girl might be.
Another person by the name of Troy Troutman (with the alternative spelling of "Trautman") was listed in one of Powell's mental health files as "next of kin," with no further explanation. In testimony before Commissioner Michael Hintze concerning the matter, a representative for the fiduciary's office speculated that Troutman might be a son, but they could not locate him.
Hamm says that a prisoner who was in with Powell told her that Powell had a son named Troy. The medical examiner's report indicates Powell had several tattoos, one of which was the name "Troy" on her upper right arm. Others were of a flower, a teardrop, and the names "John" and "John C."
Powell's cremains were committed June 28 at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix. Her body may now be laid to rest, so to speak, but the questions concerning her death still resonate.
Why was she left in the 107 degree heat without water for about four hours, if not more? Did the drugs in her system, combined with the extreme heat and sunlight, exacerbate her condition? And why was ADC chief Ryan so quick to pull Powell's plug, when a little more time would have revealed a guardian and some next of kin?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.