HUNTINGTON — A man convicted of murder in a fatal 2016 bar beating is out on probation following a hearing that has left some questioning West Virginia’s penalties for causing death.
Hayden Damien Drakes, of Huntington, on Tuesday entered a Kennedy plea — which allows him to take the punishment for a crime without admitting his guilt — to malicious wounding in the 2016 beating death of Brett Powell at a bar along 7th Avenue in Huntington.
The sentencing calls for a two- to 10-year prison sentence, a sentence for which he was credited for time already served incarcerated and on home confinement. As part of the agreement reached between the parties, the rest of the prison sentence will be suspended and Drakes was sentenced to serve two years’ probation instead.
Drakes punched Powell several times around 12:30 a.m. March 31, 2016, at the former Club Deception, at 1037 7th Ave. in Huntington, causing severe head trauma that ultimately led to Powell’s death.
Drakes previously testified that Powell would not leave his group of friends alone, particularly a pregnant friend, and Drakes lost his temper.
The defense said Powell was a drug dealer who was at the club working, though no drugs were found on his body at the time of his death. Powell did not strike Drakes.
After entering his plea Tuesday, Drakes said he hoped one day the victim’s family could forgive him.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this, and I am truly sorry to the family,” he said. “I wish I could take it all back.”
Sherry Powell, Brett Powell’s mother, said Drakes stole the joy of her life and her family’s happiness. She said she felt forgiving him was necessary to move forward with her healing, but still held anger. She told Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson that “if we wanted to be forgiven, then we must forgive.”
Drakes had choices, and he chose anger and violence to take a Christian’s life, she said.
“You deserved so much more,” she said. “As you go on the rest of your life enjoying your freedom and are happy and raise your own children, I hope that you’re reminded daily of what you’ve done and the lives you’ve destroyed.”
She said her son’s life was worth more than the sentence Drakes received.
Drakes had previously been sentenced to serve the maximum of 40 years after he was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury in December 2017. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals later threw out the conviction, stating the circuit court had erred in the instructions it gave describing second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Defense attorney Gerald Henderson argued that confusing jury instructions, evidence of Drakes leaving the scene, the introduction of the bar’s surveillance video, the conduct of the victim’s family in the courtroom and the medical examiner’s testimony had affected the jury’s ability to reach a proper verdict.
Assistant prosecutor Lauren Plymale said the entire process after the Supreme Court ruling was disappointing.
West Virginia currently has four penalties for deaths: first- or second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter. Plymale said there needs to be a better flow of penalties among those four statutes and malicious wounding.
“I don’t believe the punishment fits the crime whatsoever in this case, and that’s because we need change,” she said. “I talked to the family, and I personally am going to request the Legislature fix the discrepancies.”
Ferguson said he does not believe the involuntary manslaughter penalty, up to a year in jail, was stiff enough. Henderson said he agreed.
“To kill someone, even if it’s unintentionally, should be more than up to two years in jail,” he said. “Different states have more severe penalties than what West Virginia has.”