October 1, 2002
Huntsville, Texas
James Rexford Powell (56) is executed for the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl

On October 6, 1990, Falyssa Van Winkle, accompanied by her mother and stepfather, traveled to a Beaumont, Texas antique mall. While her parents were selling wares, Falyssa announced she was going to another vendor to buy some peanuts. It was the last time they saw her alive.

Van Winkle’s fully-clothed body was found 5 hours later face-down in a creek along the Texas-Louisiana state line. Her hands were tied with rope, and an identical rope was tied tightly around her neck. Additionally, Van Winkle had marks to her ankles indicating they, too, had been restrained with rope at some point. Her autopsy revealed Van Winkle had been strangled to death, and semen was found in her vaginal cavity, demonstrating she had also been the victim of a sexual assault.

Another vendor at the antique mall, James Rexford Powell, was arrested in his Mauriceville, Texas home on October 8; he was charged with sexual assault and murder.

Witnesses saw Powell near the peanut vendor around the time Van Winkle had told her parents she was going to buy some of the snacks, and another witness had seen Powell’s distinctive vehicle — described as an “enlarged van” with a “custom-painted red bird on the side” — near the location Van Winkle’s body was later found. Additionally, a neighbor had witnessed Powell thoroughly cleaning the inside, outside, and underside of his vehicle the day after Van Winkle’s murder.

The prosecution admitted several pieces of physical evidence against Powell in court, including several hairs which matched those belonging to Van Winkle which had been found in Powell’s van, as well as white dog hairs found on Van Winkle’s body which matched dog hairs also found in Powell’s van. DNA evidence from the semen found in Van Winkle’s body was linked to Powell, as well.

The jury deliberated for 45 minutes before convicting Powell. He was subsequently sentenced to death.

Powell appealed in 1994, on the basis of witness testimony provided during his punishment phase. The witness stated Powell had attempted to rape and murder her in 1984, though Powell was acquitted on the murder charge. Powell contended that, by referencing the murder charge, he was subjected to double jeopardy which violated his constitutional right to not be tried twice for the same crime. The judge presiding over the appeal noted the testimony was presented to the jury only to assist the jurors in determining if Powell would be a threat to society should he eventually be released. The appeal was dismissed.

Powell was executed by lethal injection on October 1, 2002, 12 years after Van Winkle’s murder. His final statement was simply, “I am ready for the final blessing,” spoken to the prison priest who then led witnesses in prayer.

After the execution, Falyssa’s father thanked “the citizens of Texas for having the courage and conviction to demand that there be consequences for those people who refuse to abide by the most basic rule: that you cannot abduct, violate and strangle 10-year-old girls.” He added, “I am extremely satisfied that Mr. Powell is now assuming room temperature.”

James Rexford Powell, via Find a Grave

Falyssa Ann Van Winkle. Find a Grave. Accessed: October 1, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/32946261/falyssa-ann-van_winkle/
James Rexford Powell. Find a Grave. Accessed: October 1, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/154264452/james-rexford-powellhttps://www.findagrave.com/memorial/154264452/james-rexford-powell (image source)
Graczyk, Michael. “Inmate executed for raping, killing girl.” Austin American-Statesman. October 2, 2002
“Texas executes killer of 10-year-old girl.” UPI. October 1, 2002. Accessed: October 1, 2020. https://www.upi.com/Top_News/2002/10/01/Texas-executes-killer-of-10-year-old-girl/48231033516537/
“Lake Charles girl’s killer to be executed Tuesday.” The Daily Adviser [Lafayette, Louisiana]. September 30, 2002
Powell v. State. 898 S.W.2d 821 (1994). James Rexford POWELL, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee. No. 71270. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, En Banc. November 30, 1994. Rehearing Overruled April 12, 1995 (archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/court-of-criminal-appeals/1995/71270-4.html)
“Court upholds sentences in capital murder cases.” Odessa American. December 1, 1994
“Murder conviction of man upheld in ‘90 strangulations, assault of girl.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram. December 1, 1994
“Texan guilty of girl’s murder.” News Messenger [Marshall, Texas]. June 4, 1991
“Suspect held.” Alexandria Daily Town Talk. October 9, 1990

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