Brenda Powell devoted her life to helping young people. She had worked as a child life specialist in the haematology oncology unit at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio for 28 years and had a reputation for being the best in her field. But her family was always her priority, so when Brenda received a call at work from her husband to say their 19-year-old daughter Sydney needed her, she went straight home.
It was 3 March, 2020, and 50-year-old Brenda, who also had a son, believed her home life was going well. Her daughter was studying at University Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, where she lived on campus. Brenda had always supported Sydney’s studies. The teenager had been captain of her high school soccer team and earned a partial academic scholarship to the university, where she started in the autumn of 2019.
The following February, Brenda noticed a GPS tracking app showed her daughter was at home, rather than in class. Sydney sent a text saying her teacher had taken the week as a holiday “so just gave us a worksheet and some work online to do while she’s gone”. Later that day, Brenda asked her, “Why do I always feel like you’re scamming me? Just remember you need the grades to keep your scholarship.” But Sydney replied, “My grades are good, thank you very much.”
But just over a week later, her father, Steven, noticed he couldn’t pay her university tuition fees through the usual online portal and queried it. Sydney at first said it was an error before admitting she had been suspended from university and suggesting that perhaps it wasn’t the right path for her. Steven called Brenda, believing the mother and daughter had such a close relationship they would be able to talk it out. He then went to work.
On arriving home, Brenda called university administrators in an attempt to get to the bottom of the situation. But within minutes, the two university staff members taking the call heard several loud thuds followed by screaming before the line went dead. When they called back, a woman claiming to be Brenda answered before hanging up.
The administrators called the police and asked for a welfare check. At about 1pm, police found a dishevelled Sydney on the driveway. In the house they discovered Brenda, bleeding heavily from blunt force trauma to the head and knife wounds in the neck. She was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she died. Sydney was also taken to hospital suffering from minor injuries.
When the police questioned her, the teenager claimed that while her mother was on the phone, Brenda had heard an intruder and had told at her to run. When she heard screaming, she went back into the house and found her mother on the floor. Officers discovered a broken window with blood on it – suggesting it had been smashed after the attack.
Brenda had been violently hit over the head with a cast iron frying pan before being stabbed in the neck at least 23 times in an attack that left her with catastrophic injuries.
Further inquiries led investigators to discover the huge secret that Sydney had been hiding from her family. She had failed three out of four classes and in December 2019, after repeated warnings about her grades and being put on academic probation, she had been suspended from university.
For three months she remained on campus and pretended to go to her classes. She didn’t tell her roommates or her family she had been suspended. Eventually, in February, officials told her to leave her dormitory, and in the week leading up to Brenda’s attack, she had been staying in hotels.
University officials believed Sydney’s parents knew about the suspension, but it was clear when Brenda called on the day of her death, she’d had no clue about what had been going on. She had appeared calm on the phone and university staff said they hadn’t heard her warn her daughter about an intruder or tell her to run.
The police determined there had been no intruder and that Sydney had killed her own mother. While Brenda was on the phone to the college, her daughter hit her over the head with the frying pan before going into the kitchen to get a knife and stabbing her several times in the neck. Then, in a futile attempt to stage a break-in, she’d smashed a window.
Sydney was arrested and charged with murder. She was released on $25,000 bail and lived with her maternal grandmother while awaiting trial and treatment for her mental health.
Neither her grandmother nor her father wanted the case to go to court. They believed Sydney had suffered a mental health breakdown and needed help rather than prison. However, the prosecution pushed ahead with the case and at her trial this year, Sydney pleaded not guilty on grounds of insanity.
Her defence argued that she had suffered a psychotic episode at the time of the attack and since then had been diagnosed with schizophrenia for which she was receiving treatment. Experts suggested she had been losing her grip on reality in the period leading up to the killing due to the stress of being kicked out of university and hiding it from her family.
But while experts for the prosecution accepted that Sydney did indeed have mental health issues, they posited she hadn’t been suffering from a psychotic attack when she’d killed her mother in the three-and-a-half-minute attack.
And in the immediate aftermath, she’d been of sound enough mind to try and cover up the attack by breaking a window. Prosecutors argued that Sydney knew exactly what she was doing – especially when she stabbed her mother. “She had to switch weapons and keep attacking her,” they told the court. “Just the knife just in the neck multiple times? That is purposeful. That is trying to end someone.”
In September, a jury at Summit County Common Pleas Court found Powell, now 23, guilty of two counts of murder – purposely causing a death and causing a death as the result of a felonious assault – plus felonious assault and tampering with evidence. She sobbed as the verdict was read out before she was taken into custody.
A few weeks later, she was sentenced to life in prison and told she would have to serve 15 years before she could be considered for parole. In passing sentence, Judge Kelly McLaughlin said, “To the victim, to the family and the friends, I’m terribly sorry for your loss here. I cannot imagine what you have been through.” Sydney has plans to appeal and her family, who did not want her punished, continues to support her.
Source: Mirror online
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