Steven Powell at a court hearing last month in Tacoma, Wash. (Lui Kit Wong / Tacoma News…)
SEATTLE -- The prosecution drew a tighter knot around Steven Powell on Tuesday when a judge in Tacoma, Wash., upheld the search warrant that turned up about 2,000 explicit photos of women and young girls — some of them depicting his missing daughter-in-law, Susan Cox Powell, with whom he was said to be obsessed.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper’s decision clears the way for Powell to go on trial next month on voyeurism and child pornography charges, and for the photos to be used as evidence.
Susan Powell vanished from her Utah home in December 2009. The primary person of interest in the case, her husband, Josh Powell, killed himself and the couple’s two young sons in February in an arson fire at his rental home in Graham, Wash.
Josh Powell was never charged with his wife’s disappearance, and both he and Steven Powell had said Susan may have run off with another man.
But Culpepper said investigators had good reason to search Steven Powell’s Puyallup, Wash., home, where Josh moved with his boys after leaving Utah.
Culpepper said it was “very reasonable to infer that Josh and Steven discussed the disappearance,” and there were “lots of good reasons” why Josh Powell was a person of interest in his wife’s case, according to various news reports from the courtroom.
The judge also found there was probable cause for police to search the Powell house for Susan’s journals — writings Josh Powell had said on national television were in his possession — in the hope that they might shed light on the Utah case.
The ruling on the search warrant left prosecutors free to use as evidence the sexually explicit photos they found during the search, which led to the criminal case against Steven Powell. Some of the photos depict Susan partially naked in the bathroom, apparently taken without her knowledge. Others show two young neighbor girls in various stages of undress, also taken surreptitiously.
Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist welcomed the judge’s ruling.
“Officers carefully played by the rules when they searched Steven Powell’s home, and we are pleased the judge agreed the search was lawful,” he said in a statement.
Susan’s father, Chuck Cox, told reporters after the hearing that he believed Steven Powell knew what happened to his daughter and he might welcome a plea bargain of the voyeurism charges if it meant Steven Powell would divulge whatever he knew.
“We think the police are going to find where Susan is. And we think it's important to keep Steve off the streets. We think it's important for the public safety, and if it meant him going free, then absolutely not. If it meant some type of [sentence] reduction that would still require a significant prison stay for him, then possibly," Cox told Utah’s Deseret News.
But Powell’s daughter, Alina Powell, told the Salt Lake Tribune that her father was being railroaded. She said evidence against Powell had been fabricated, and prosecutors’ claims in court contained “quite a number of fallacies and/or factual errors.”
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