Oklahoma Town Rallies Behind Girl Accused Of Killing Father

CEMENT, Okla. - Pink ribbons decorate public buildings in this small southwestern Oklahoma farming town in a show of support for a 16-year-old girl who shot and killed her father.

The prosecutor called the case a tragedy and recommended it be handled in Juvenile Court, but a Caddo County judge ruled Wednesday that Billie Joe Powell must stand trial as an adult.

As an adult, she could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. The maximum sentence in Juvenile Court would have been custody until age 18.

The girl was arrested Aug. 26 at her family's dilapidated, one-story frame house. Jerry Dallas, mayor of the gritty town of 600 residents, got to the home before police and found Billy Ray Powell, 47, dead in his bed.

Billie Joe was sitting in a corner. She told investigators she killed her father because she was "tired of him being around" and "couldn't stand him any longer."

Support for Billie Joe is strong in her hometown, where rumors of her abuse abounded.

"As far as the town is concerned, the division is between those who want to give her a medal and turn her loose, and those who just want to turn her loose and get her the help she needs," said Dallas, who employed Powell as a handyman.

According to public defender Melody Brannon, the shooting followed a night of emotional abuse.

Powell was in bed, still shouting at Billie Joe, when he was shot, Brannon said. He apparently had turned to reach for cigarettes when Billie Joe pointed a single-shot .22-caliber rifle and fired, Dallas said. Powell was hit once in the back.

At the hearing on Billie Joe's juvenile status, her maternal grandmother testified she often saw Powell fondle Billie Joe and an older sister who has since left home. Billie Joe's brother said he was beaten regularly by his father.

The state Department of Human Services removed Billie Joe from the home in January 1989. After 18 months in foster care, a judge returned her to her parents over objections of social workers and psychologists.

Pictures of both girls nude and in bed with their father were presented in court during the hearing.

Billie Joe said in her confession she wasn't physically abused again after returning home in 1990.

Assistant District Attorney Richard Kirby, who in court called the case a tragedy, said the girl has shown no remorse.

Brannon plans to appeal the judge's decision to have her tried as an adult. Billie Joe, meanwhile, sits in a jail cell in lieu of $100,000 bond.

"People are very supportive. I've heard the comment more than once that if that's what he did, he got what he deserved," Snider said of the father.

A sign on the reception desk at City Hall promotes the pink-ribbon campaign. More than 3,000 signatures have been collected on a petition that was presented to county District Court, asking that Billie Joe be certified as a juvenile.

"We just want to get her treatment and not get her locked up in a penal institution," Snider said. "She's not somebody who's going to walk up to someone in the street and shoot them."