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The News & Observer
January 10, 1995
Author: TODD NELSON, STAFF WRITER
Ernest Edward Powers waits for his sentencing hearing to begin in Hillsborough. One of the issues involved was his mental health.
HILLSBOROUGH — A man who shot and permanently injured his estranged wife’s boyfriend received a 10-year prison sentence Monday, the maximum possible under a plea agreement.
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled that Ernest Edward Powers knew what he was doing — despite mental illness — when he shot David Hardie last June in Chapel Hill.
“I am amazed that we are not trying a homicide,” said Stephens, rejecting defense pleas for leniency after hearing Hardie’s chilling account of the shooting. “I am amazed this man is alive.”
Supporters of Powers and Hardie sat on opposite sides as they watched the emotional proceedings in Orange County Superior Court. Powers’ estranged wife, Debra, sided with Hardie.
Although Powers was hoping to avoid prison time or for a customary sentence of six years, he hugged his attorney and thanked her afterward. Hardie, who still has a bullet lodged near his spine that could one day paralyze him, embraced Debra Powers.
Powers, 45, pleaded guilty last month to a charge of secret assault, a felony charge that involves lying in wait for a victim. The charge normally carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
In exchange for Powers’ plea, prosecutor Nancy Vecchia agreed to ask for a sentence of no more than 10 years.
Vecchia said she was willing to accept a plea agreement to avoid the risk of taking the case to trial. A jury would have had to weigh complicated defense evidence regarding Powers’ mental capacity, including his ability to form the intent to shoot Hardie.
Dr. Thomas Brown, a psychiatrist with the state Department of Correction, testified Monday that Powers’ behavior could be attributed to a manic outburst aggravated by an antidepressant drug.
While doctors at UNC Hospitals and Dorothea Dix Hospital diagnosed Powers as depressed, Brown said he found that Powers suffered from a bipolar disorder, which involves cycling between states of depression and mania. Another medication has corrected the chemical imbalance that led to Powers’ problems, Brown testified.
The issue of Powers’ mental health, however, gave the judge little pause Monday.
“I’m certain he suffers from mental illness,” Stephens said. “I also believe he fully understood what he was doing at the time he did it.”
Powers was arrested June 13, a day after he fired four shots from a .38-caliber handgun at point-blank range into Hardie’s face and back.
The shooting culminated weeks of threats Powers made against Hardie and his estranged wife after he learned of their relationship, Vecchia said. When he shot him, Powers was lying in wait outside his wife’s home.
After the bullets started flying, Hardie said all he could do was to pretend he was already dead.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of dying. I’m going to live,'” Hardie told the court. “It’s ruined my life. A lot of times I feel I would have been better off if I hadn’t made it that night.”
Record Number: RNOB95009069
Copyright 1995 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.