Story last updated at 1:20 p.m. Saturday, August 31, 2002

Cabin shooter gets 15 years
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

The Ohlson Mountain man known as "Walking John" Powell received a 20-year prison term with five years suspended Monday evening as the result of a shooting spree directed at three area residents he claimed were snowmachining on his land near Lookout Mountain in April of last year.

Powell, a bearded hermit who also went by the nickname "Dark Star" and apparently shunned motorized vehicles, pleaded no contest to three counts of third-degree assault and one count of misconduct involving a weapon, reduced from three counts of attempted murder, among other charges.

Around 10 p.m. on April 5, 2001, Powell began blasting 12-gauge shotgun slugs and buckshot into the backcountry cabin of Gabe Ritchie and Susie Malone. As they cowered naked inside their upstairs bedroom, with slugs plowing through walls and windows, a trio of unfortunate snowmachiners passed through woods near the cabin. The third among them was Dave Baird, who ran his snowmachine into a tree after Powell turned his shotgun in his direction.

None of the three were hit, and all escaped their attacker, frightened but unharmed.

Some time later, snowshoed troopers who walked a mile to the cabin talked Powell out of his gun and arrested him. Baird made an hours-long hike back to his cabin, while Malone and Ritchie were located by a trooper helicopter after they lit a spruce tree on fire.

At the time of his arrest and during Tuesday's hearing, Powell stated that he was upset because of the environmental destruction and personal trespass of snowmachiners.

According to Assistant District Attorney John Wolfe, Powell churned out a string of assertions during the sentencing, claiming that Ritchie and Malone were taunting him with rooster calls. He also said the couple were drug users, and apparently stated that the troopers were sympathetic to snowmachiners because of their complicity in the drug world.

Troopers found a bottle of Chivas Regal in the area of the 22 spent shotgun shells Powell fired during his rampage. Wolfe didn't think that troopers ever tested the then 38-year-old Powell's blood-alcohol level.

"He was neither defiant nor remorseful," Wolfe said. "He explained his reasons to the court and expected us to understand.

"But I was at a loss, and based on the courts' reaction, I don't think the court and he were on the same wavelength either."

Meanwhile, during the past year and a half, Ritchie and Malone were kept abreast of the legal proceedings by Wolfe, who counseled that with the victims' blessing, it might be less risky to try Powell on the assault counts, because defense attorney Peter Mysing planned on calling expert witnesses to assert Powell's insanity.

"He conceivably could have gotten a longer sentence, but he also could have been out much quicker," Wolfe said, adding that with the type of sentence mandated by third-degree assault, Powell will have to serve at least two-thirds of his 15 years.

Under an attempted murder conviction Powell would have faced between five and 99 years, but might have been eligible for parole after just one-third of the time sentenced.

"We were happy with the plea agreement," Malone said. "... But with some of his random rantings, he's way off base."

Malone said she and Ritchie only spent one night away from their cabin after the incident.

But they keep firearms handy at their cabin, just in case.

"We have them because we're scared. We've got three, and they're loaded and ready," Malone said.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at