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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Steven Powell And His Son Josh: Cases Of Voyeurism, Arson, and Murder-Suicide

     On December 6, 2009, Josh Powell reported his 28-year-old wife, Susan Cox Powell, missing. He said she had disappeared while he and his two sons were on a camping trip. The family lived in West Valley, a suburb of Salt Lake City. The story didn't make any sense, and the police didn't believe him. As time passed, and Susan Cox remained missing, the authorities suspected that Josh Powell had murdered his wife for her life insurance. But without the body, the case stalled.

     In January 2010, after losing his job, Josh Powell and his boys moved into his father Steven Powell's house in South Hill, an unincorporated community in the Puyallup, Washington area. Investigators, in August 2011, pursuant to the ongoing investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance and presumed murder, searched Steven Powell's house, and were shocked by what they found.

     On videotapes, computer discs, and in Steven Powell's diaries, detectives found evidence that Josh's father had been sexually obsessed with Susan, and had secretly videotaped and photographed, in 2006 and 2007, two girls who lived in the house next door. The girls were age 8 and 10.

     In seven entries in his dairies, Steven Powell had documented his bizarre fixation on his daughter-in-law. He wrote: "Susan likes to be admired, and I'm a voyeur...I'm a voyeur and Susan is an exhibitionist." In a series of videos of himself ruminating about his daughter-in-law, the senior Powell said he "...would give anything to be with her." In various self-videoed scenes, Steven Powell is kissing a pair of her underwear, standing nude with a photograph of her, and recalling how giving her a foot rub was "...the most erotic experience of my life." Detectives also found clandestinely taken photographs of Susan in various stages of undress.

     Even more disturbing, were the thousands of photographs Powell had secretly taken of the girls next door. The pictures, taken 40 feet away through a window and an open bathroom door, depicted the youngsters getting dressed and undressed, taking baths, washing and drying their hair, and other thing people do in the privacy of their homes. On his computer, Steven Powell had hundreds of photographs he had covertly taken of other girls who had passed in front of his house. Searchers also found hundreds of photographs, taken by other people, of naked women and girls.

     In his diary entries, Powell discussed his voyeurism generally, noting that he enjoyed taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts. In 2010, he recorded himself saying,  "I've been going nuts and nearly out of control sexually my entire life."

     Charged by the Pierce County prosecutor with 24 counts of voyeurism, and one count of possession of materials of minors engaged in explicit conduct, police arrested Steven Powell on September 12, 2011. Each count carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     About a month after his father's arrest, Josh Powell lost custody of his two boys and moved into a rented house in Graham, Washington. On February 6, 2012, his sons' made a visit to his home accompanied by a supervising social worker. Powell, with the boys in the house, locked the social worker out of the dwelling. With the social worker locked outside of the house, Josh Powell murdered the boys with a hatchet. He poured several gallons of gasoline around the dwelling then set it on fire. He died in the blaze.

     Steven Powell, with his daughter-in-law missing and presumed dead, two of his grandsons murdered, and his son, the killer of all three, dead by his own hand, went on trial May 7, 2012 in Tacoma, Washington. In a series of pre-trial hearings, Pierce County Judge Ronald Culpepper had ruled that the prosecution could not introduce any of the evidence pertaining to Powell's obsession with Susan Powell. Moreover, the government could only present 20 of the photographs the defendant had allegedly taken of the girls next door.

     On May 9, the girls Powell had allegedly photographed and videotaped in 2006 and 2007, now 13 and 15, took the stand for the prosecution. When asked why they had not kept the bathroom door closed, one of the witnesses said she felt safer with the door open, and had no idea anyone outside the house could see her. In the summer, because the home didn't have air conditioning, it got hot on the second floor. That explained why all of the upstairs windows had been open during the night. The family had moved to Puyalllup in 2006 from Arizona, and in 2008, left the neighborhood. The girls and their mother had no memory of Steven Powell, and were unable to identify him in the court room.

     Defense attorney Mark Quigley did not put any witnesses on the stand. His defense, which revealed itself through his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, consisted of suggesting that someone else in the Powell house had spied on the girls. At the time, Steven Powell's two sons, and one of his daughters, lived with him.

     Attorney Quigley, in his closing argument to the jury, pointed out that the state, with no direct proof the defendant had photographed and videotaped the neighbor girls, had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     Prosecutor Grand Blinn, characterized the state's case as one involving "overwhelming circumstantial evidence." Blinn told the jury of six men and six women that the defendant had essentially confessed to being a voyeur. "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "anything more disturbing to teenage girls to know that a middle age man next door was taking pictures of them."

     On May 16, 2012, the jury, following just three hours of deliberation, found Steven Powell guilty of all 14 counts of voyeurism. They acquitted him of the possession of child pornography charges.

     The judge, on July 15, 2012, sentenced Steven Powell to 30 months in prison for the voyeurism offenses.

     On October 27, 2014, the prosecutor re-charged Powell on the pornography allegations. A judge later dismissed that case.

     The Washington State Court of Appeals, on March 13, 2016, set aside Powell's voyeurism conviction on procedural grounds related to the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

     As of February 2017, Susan Cox Powell's body had not been found.
       

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