Man will spend at least 20 years in prison for second-degree murder
IDAHO FALLS – Daniel Wood appeared stoic as he offered an apology in court to family members for his involvement in the murder of an Ammon man 18 months ago.
During a hearing Thursday afternoon, District Judge Dane Watkins ordered 19-year-old Wood to serve a 20-year fixed sentence with 40-years indeterminate for playing a part in the murder of Larry H. Powell in September 2020. A $5,000 compensatory fine was also imposed.
Wood pleaded guilty to felony second-degree murder charges in December. Deputies found Powell’s body inside his Ammon home after someone called 911 saying a man wearing a tan hoodie with dark hair had shot Powell and run away from the house. Bonneville County Sheriff’s deputies found Wood, who said he was only a witness to the shooting and that his friend, Westley Hightower, pulled the trigger.
“I coerced and assisted Hightower,” Wood said at his change-of-plea hearing. “I distracted the guy while Hightower shot him.”
Wood, who is homeless, told detectives he met Hightower just days before the shooting, and they had conversations about killing Powell, according to detectives.
“Wood disclosed that Hightower offered him ‘some money’ and to live at Powell’s residence if he helped Hightower murder Powell and his wife,” according to court documents.
About two days before the shooting, both Hightower and Wood admitted to previously trying to poison Powell in their attempts to kill him, documents say.
A member of the Powell family read from a victim impact statement during Thursday’s proceedings and mentioned that during a previous hearing, Wood did not mention Powell’s name.
“He couldn’t even bother to say his name. Does he even know it?” the family member said. “The most disturbing thing to me about Wood’s role in this crime is that he didn’t even know (the victim) and had nothing to gain from his death, yet decided to participate in killing him anyway.”
Bonneville County Prosecutor Alayne Bean reiterated the words of the family member, noting, “Westley was not emboldened to take those steps until he met Daniel. Daniel does not understand his pivotal role in this. But for these two meeting together, Larry Powell may still be alive today.”
Defense attorney Neal Randall highlighted Wood’s past, citing a lack of a good parental role model in his life and an extensive record with the Juvenile Department of Corrections. He said Wood got a score of 70 on an IQ test, which makes his cognitive abilities lower than normal.
“I don’t present that to excuse Daniel’s actions,” he said. “The defense only offers this as a window for the family, who is rightfully grieving and will forever grieve this crime. I implore the court to understand that we’re not dealing with a person who has a normal thought process.”
Randall also addressed Wood’s attitude during the litigation process, which some have regarded as flippant. The attorney said Wood’s behavior is a result of his cognitive impairments and that there was no “malintent” behind it.
Randall pointed out it’s not likely that Wood will ever be in a position to pay that fine. Bean argued it’s a “burden” that should remain in place regardless of Wood’s cognitive or financial ability, which Watkins upheld.
Watkins gave Wood a chance to make a statement prior to sentencing. His demeanor was neutral as he offered an apology to Powell’s family.
“I have issues sleeping at night due to the scenery that I seen. I’m just terribly sorry that I had to put them through something like this. I’ll never know what it’s like to go through something like this because I feel responsible for taking someone’s life,” Wood said.
Hightower pleaded guilty in July to felony first-degree murder for his role in Powell’s killing. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on March 7.