OH v. Sydney Powell: Mother Stabbed Murder Trial

Posted at 12:30 PM, September 20, 2023 and last updated 9:35 AM, September 28, 2023


AKRON, Ohio (Court TV) – A judge has sentenced Sydney Powell to an indefinite sentence of 15 years to life after being found guilty of all charges related to the fatal stabbing of her mother in the family’s home.

After deliberating for nine hours and twenty-three minutes, the jury found the 23-year-old guilty of murder, felonious assault and tampering with evidence in the March 3, 2020, death of Brenda Powell, 50. According to the arrest affidavit, Sydney fatally stabbed Brenda when a verbal argument became physical. Sydney was 19 at the time.

sydney powell appears in court

Sydney Powell, accused in her mother’s death, appears in court Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. (Court TV)

Police say they discovered a wounded Brenda while responding to a welfare call that had been placed by someone at the University of Mount Union, where Sydney was a student. The caller told dispatch that he had spoken to Sydney over the phone and heard “yelling and screaming,” which prompted him to alert authorities after calling Sydney back twice and getting no answer.

Brenda, who worked at Akron Children’s Hospital Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders as a child life specialist for nearly 30 years, was taken to Cleveland Clinic Akron General. She succumbed to her injuries shortly thereafter.

Sydney was also treated for minor injuries. The Summit County Medical Examiner determined that Brenda died of multiple sharp and blunt force injuries. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Sydney, who entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, became very emotional just before the verdict was read by the judge. She’d been out on bail since her arraignment in the Summit County Common Pleas Court and was taken into custody while audibly crying.


DAY 10 – 9/28/23

DAY 9 – 9/20/23

  • Jury finds Sydney Powell guilty on all counts. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 28, 2023

DAY 8 – 9/19/23

  • Deliberations continued

DAY 7 – 9/18/23

  • Prosecutors urge jurors to set aside their emotions and find Sidney Powell guilty of murder in the death of her mother
  • Defense Attorney Don Malarcik becomes emotional during his closing telling jurors he’s been guided by four words throughout the trial, “Please help us Brenda”
  • Prosecutors urge jurors to set aside their emotions and find Sidney Powell guilty of murder in the death of her mother
  • After hearing closing arguments jurors deliberated for 15 minutes before recessing for the evening
  • Prosecutors called one witness in rebuttal, Dr. Silvia O’Bradovich, a clinical psychologist, who said she interviewed Sydney for two hours and diagnosed her with borderline personality traits and unspecified anxiety disorder and concluded that she was malingering. O’Bradovich said she did not use any of the tests administered by the defense experts to rule out malingering because they relied on self-reporting, furthermore she testified that such tests did not accurately reveal whether someone is insane at the time of the crime, because they were administered years after the homicide. She also disagreed with their diagnosis that Powell was suffering from a psychotic break due to schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
  • “The best source of information for an insanity evaluation is what was said and felt at the time of the incident,” O’Bradovich explained. She said she took a different approach than the others, by examining what she knew to be true and comparing it to Powell’s statements and symptoms. “It just didn’t add up to Schizophrenia,” she said noting that Powell reported that she began experiencing symptoms at the age of 11, which would make her case extremely rare. The psychologist said among women, symptoms of schizophrenia usually surface around mid to late twenties. She also noted that it would have also been rare for such symptoms to go unnoticed.
    • When shown the video of Powell appearing to be catatonic lying on the driveway, she opined that Powell was suffering from shock after the trauma of killing her mother. Catatonia, she said was not something that one could slip in and out of, rather the condition usually lasts 24 hours to several days.
    • O’Bradovich also disputed that Sydney had no motive to kill her mother, opining that Sydney was willing to kill her mother because she would do anything to keep from disappointing her.
    • Defense attorney Donald Malarcik questioned her expertise noting that O’Bradovich had never before testified as an expert witness on an insanity matter in a criminal case. The judge recognized her as an expert over his objection.

DAY 6 – 9/15/23

  • Defense rested its case Friday after calling two more mental health experts to the witness stand. Dr. Robin Belcher-Timme, agreed with two previous defense experts who testified that Sydney Powell was insane and could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions when she attacked and killed her mother in March of 2020.
  • Dr. Timme testified that Powell’s case was atypical and difficult to predict because the risk factors normally that are predictors of violence, such as history of violence, extreme childhood trauma, substance abuse—were not present in her case. Timme opined that Powell’s psychotic break began when she was summoned to the Dean’s office and told she had to vacate her dorm. That was followed by a week in which she was staying at hotels. Timme suggests that by then Powell had lost track of time and become increasingly paranoid and out of touch with reality.
    • He explained that psychosis typically overcomes a person gradually and abates over time, he opines that Powell during moments of lucidity texted with family and friends to hold on to some normalcy. Alone with her thoughts she would have been confused as paranoid, believing people were talking about her and telling her she was not worthy. Timme said multiple tests that he administered persuaded him that Powell is not malingering.
    • When asked about the incident in which Powell answered the frantic call from administrators trying to check on her mother– he opined that it was a ‘bumbling’ effort. It was clear that administrators could tell the difference between Sydney and her mother Brenda. He testified that Powell while in full blown psychosis may have been so overwhelmed by the trauma she was in a state of dissociation and trying to make sense of what had happened.
  • Dr. Anthony Smartnick treated Powell after she was released from the hospital and continues to see her. He diagnosed her schizoaffective disorder and prescribed a litany of anti-psychotic drugs, including a drug to help Powell sleep after she reported having nightmares of seeing her mother blooded and deceased. Smartnick characterized her nightmares as symptoms of PTSD and said Powell responded well to medication, though he had to tweak her prescription when she had breakthrough symptoms.
    • Smartnick also testified that he was never concerned that Powell was malingering or feigning her symptoms.
  • The State’s rebuttal witness is expected to opine that Powell is malingering and was not insane at the time of the homicide.

DAY 5 – 9/14/23

  • The judge noted for the record that Sydney Powell has requested to be excused from the courtroom. Powell agreed, and this marked this first time her voice was heard in the courtroom.
  • Sydney’s former English teacher described her as a standout student and wrote a letter recommending her to the college where she ultimately failed.
    • WATCH: English Teacher Describes Sydney Powell in High School
    • Milligan taught Sydney for three years while she attended St. Vincents High School.
    • Milligan described an incident in which Sydney, accompanied by a friend, came to her distressed and crying because she ‘could not see the numbers.’ The situation was resolved when a teacher agreed to give Sydney a test at another time. Milligan said that she did not report the incident to school officials and that she never observed mental health issues in Sydney that would have caused enough concern to contact her parents.
  • Dr. Thomas Swale, a neuropsychologist, testified that Sydney was out of her mind and experiencing psychosis when she attacked her mother.
    • Swale was asked to evaluate Powell in July of 2023 to determine whether she was insane at the time of the murder. After reviewing her medical records, Swale diagnosed Sydney with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type and opined that she was in an acute psychotic state at the time of the murder.
    • Swale said that Sydney suffered schizophrenic symptoms until May 2020, and then for four months after that she experienced suicidal ideation. Sweale said that he administered a series of tests to rule out malingering and at an earlier evaluation in 2021 he ruled out epilepsy or neurological impairment as having caused the criminal conduct.
    • Lack of motive for the attack on her mother helped persuade Swale that Sydney was insane and could not tell right from wrong at the time of the murder.

DAY 4 – 9/13/23

  • The first of several psychological experts who evaluated the defendant took the witness stand Wednesday to tell jurors that Sydney Powell was experiencing a psychotic break and could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions when she bludgeoned and stabbed her mother to death in March of 2020.
  • Dr. James Reardon evaluated Powell in the fall of 2021 and diagnosed her with schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. Reardon said Powell told him that she did not recall the attack, and only remembered flashes. Her last memory of her mother was that they were sitting on the couch, and she was comforting her. She recalled going up and down the stairs of their basement, wanting to get away. According to Reardon that was the extent of her recollection of the assault, her next memory was being at the hospital.
    • WATCH: Psychologist Describes Sydney Powell: ‘One of the Most Severe Cases’
    • Reardon testified that Powell was deteriorating and losing her grip on reality in the three months leading up to the attack. Her lies to her parents about being enrolled in Mount Union attending classes when she had been suspended were an alternate reality that she lived because her failure was inconsistent with how she viewed herself, therefore she denied what was really going on in her life hoping she could make the falsehood a true reality, according to Reardon.
    • On cross by prosecutor Brian Stano, Reardon agreed that it was rare that sufferers of schizophrenia act out violently, and even rarer still that such patients report symptoms before the age of 13. Reardon had noted in his assessment that Powell told him she had experienced auditory hallucinations when she was as young as 11. Reardon agreed that schizophrenia does not give one a pass in the commission of a crime.
    • Prosecutor Brian Stano noted that some of the mental health professionals who saw Sydney in the days following the murder did not rule out malingering. He also noted in her hospital records that she initially said that she had no memory of who had stitched up her hand but then later recalled that a male resident stitched her up.
    • Reardon’s opined that the most relevant evidence was the attack itself, all taking place within 3.5 minutes. The start of the incident marked by the phone call to Brenda Powell at 12:36:45 and then the follow up phone call in which Sydney answered pretending to be her mother at 12:40:15. Reardon testified that the lack of motive, spontaneity and brutality of the attack were all factors that suggested Powell was in the throes of a psychotic break.
    • On cross the prosecutor pointed to two significant events during the 3.5 minutes attack – Stano noted that Sydney had the presence of mind to go outside of the house to break the window and later tell cops that an intruder was to blame, and she used two weapons during the attack, retrieving a knife after bludgeoning her mother with a cast iron frying pan.
    • Reardon explained that while she had lost touch with reality, she was still trying to make sense of what was senseless and felt like she had to get away, but by the time of the attack – Reardon opined that she was incapable of reasonable thought.
    • Reardon explained that her psychotic break was one of the most severe that he had ever seen in his 46 years of practice.
  • Testifying for the defense, Powell’s grandmother, Elizabeth recalled that after a few months of medication Sydney got better, and with tweaks to her medication she showed a marked improvement. She testified that Sydney came to live with her and continues to live on her grandparent’s farm.
  • Amanda Brown, no relation to Elizabeth Brown testified there were signs of Sidney’s struggle to cope with stress and anxiety when they were in high school. The registered nurse who used to work with psychiatric patients said she noticed signs that Sydney was gradually isolating herself more while in college but agreed with the State that the signs she exhibited was not concerning enough to tell the defendant’s mother, or authorities at the school.

DAY 3 – 9/11/23

  • Prosecutors rested their case-in-chief after calling their lead detective to the witness stand to testify that within days of killing her mother, Sydney was texting her reassurances that she was fine, and that her grades were good.
  • In a text message dated February 25, Brenda wrote, “Why do I always feel like you’re scamming me, just remember you need the grades to keep your scholarship.”
  • Lead investigator David Whiddon testified that they also recovered hotel searches in late February. Sydney stayed in hotels for several days and paid cash all to avoid going home after she was evicted from her dorm. Whiddon said he found no evidence that Sydney was suffering mental health issues.
  • On March 3rd, her parents discovered the truth, when her father Steven Powell couldn’t access the portal to pay her tuition. Powell confronted Sydney about it – and learned that she had been suspended. Her mother Brenda had come home to discuss the matter with her and was attacked while on the phone with school administrators.
  • Prosecutors allege that Sydney had the presence of mind to stage the crime scene after she killed her mother. Investigator David Boerner said blood found on the outside of the door near the broken window suggests she broke the window only after a ‘blood shedding’ event. She told police that there had been a break-in and her mother told her to get out.
  • Defense Attorney Don Malarcik played for jurors a mash of Sydney’s behavior after police arrived on the scene. She was erratic and hysterical initially but then when ground, she lay there in the fetal position catatonic and appeared unable to respond to questions. Sydney Powell has pled not guilty by reason of insanity.


DAY 2 – 9/8/23

  • Two Mount Union school officials testified that they heard what sounded like an attack while they were on the phone with the defendant’s mother Brenda Powell and then a minute or so later heard Sydney Powell answer their call-back posing as her mother.
  • Michelle Gaffney and John Frazier school officials from Mount Union University where the defendant had been going to school, testified that Sydney Powell was suspended after she failed 3 of her 4 classes in the fall semester of December 2019. Powell continued to attend sorority meetings and classes despite receiving written notice of her expulsion, prompting Gaffney and Frazier to meet with her to personally inform her that she would need to move out of her dorm and her access key card would be terminated.
  • WATCH: Mother Stabbed Murder Trial: Day 2
  • The school administrators said Powell understood that she had to move out but refused their help in discussing her suspension with her parents and told them that her parents were aware of her situation. It was only after Powell’s third meeting with them on February 24th, that she then did move out.
  • On March 3rd, the school received a call from Brenda Powell wanting to discuss Sydney’s suspension. They testified that they called Brenda and soon after greeting one another, they heard repeated thuds and screaming. The sounds were alarming both testified that it sounded like an attack. Frazier testified that about a minute and a half after the ‘ruckus’ and the call ended, he tried calling back and on his third attempt, Sydney answered the phone pretending to be her mother. She hung up after they called her out, and they promptly called police to the Powell home.
  • On cross John Frazer testified that Brenda appeared calm and did not appear to be in the midst of an argument with Sydney and agreed the assault took him off guard.
  • The attack on Brenda Powell was violent, she suffered at least 23 stab wounds, mainly to the neck and several blows to the back of the head, which caused the skin on her scalp to be broken. Pictures of her wounds taken at autopsy also showed cuts and bruising to her face arms and hands. Forensic pathologist, Dr. John Schott concluded Powell died because of multiple blunt and sharp force injuries.
  • The defendant’s roommate Lauren Currie testified that the two have been best friends since high school, and hit it off so well, they lived together on campus when they went on to attend Mount Union University.
    • Currie described Sydney as social, charismatic and ‘bubbly.’ She did not notice anything amiss while they were living together, except that Sydney’s key card didn’t work for a time and that she learned of Sydney’s poor academic performance after she recommended her for a mentor role with the sorority. For the most part she thought Sydney was doing well. During the summer break between their freshman and sophomore year, she said they spent time together at home, going to the mall, and doing things they normally did.
    • Currie testified that in late February Sydney told her she would be moving away from campus, taking a break to figure things out. The next time she saw her again was on March 2nd, at the sorority’s “Bachelor” viewing party. Currie observed nothing amiss then either, testifying Sydney was her ‘normal bubbly’ self. Currie said she did not notice anything like blackouts.
    • On cross by Don Malarcik Currie agreed that Sydney experienced anxiety during her high school years, and that she had told a detective that the defendant did not deal well with stress and that her anxiety got worse after she started college.
    • Also, on cross Currie agreed that Sydney studied hard and did not party or get drunk while they were at Mount Union. She also agreed that Sydney was spending more time alone and on March 2nd she was ‘pretending’ that things were normal.

DAY 1 – 9/7/23

  • Prosecutors contend Sydney lied when she told police and her father that there had been a break-in at the house, yet another lie Sydney told after deceiving her parents for months about her enrollment at Mount Union University. Bodycam footage from responding officers capture a disheveled Sydney telling them that there was a noise, that her mother told her to run, and that when she heard screaming, she came back into the house, and found her mother on the floor. Prosecutors contend she broke one of the windows in the back of the house to stage the crime scene to make it look as though a break-in had occurred.
  • The defense concedes that Sydney killed her mother, but she was in the throes of a psychotic break at the time and could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions.  Since the attack, defense attorney Donald Malarcik told jurors that Sydney has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and receiving treatment with good results.
  • The defendant’s father Steven Powell took the witness stand and became emotional while identifying members of his family in photos, before they were torn apart by the murder of his wife at the hands of their daughter.
    • WATCH: Mother Stabbed Murder Trial: Sydney Powell’s Dad Testifies
    • Under direct examination by prosecutors, Powell took jurors through the ordeal of learning that his daughter Sydney had been expelled from Mount Union University. He said he called his wife to have her handle the crisis with Sydney, since as a child-life specialist for an Akron Pediatric Hospital, she was better skilled at dealing with such matters. Brenda Powell was practiced at de-escalating traumatic, emotionally charged situations and it appeared Sydney was not coping well having lied to him about being in school when in fact she had been suspended for academic failure.
    • Powell described the mother-daughter relationship as “very close” and that the two had an unbreakable bond. He testified that Sydney had never been violent in the past.
    • He also testified that before Sydney told him about the expulsion, he had wondered about why the University had not withdrawn his tuition payment and that he could not log into the University’s portal to check on his payment status. When he asked Sydney about it, she told him that it was the University’s error. When he finally learned the truth – he told Sydney they would be able to work this out, and that she should not run away from her problems. He went back to work, leaving before Brenda got home.
    • Powell said he later received a call from his friend Kenneth Diese who was also a detective telling him that he heard police units had been dispatched to his home and asked if everything was ok. The call prompted Steven to call Sydney and Brenda. He agreed with the prosecutor that when he spoke to Sydney, she became hysterical and told him that there had been a break-in.
  • Friends and coworkers testify Sydney and Brenda Powell had a very close relationship and that they are shocked when they learn Sydney is being charged with murder in her mother’s death.