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Powell saga: Trial begins for missing Utah woman's father-in-law

May 09, 2012|By Kim Murphy
  • Steven Powell, left, consults with his attorney, Mark Quigley, during his trial on voyeurism charges.
Steven Powell, left, consults with his attorney, Mark Quigley, during… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)

SEATTLE — A mother of two young girls who once lived adjacent to Steven Powell in Puyallup, Wash., testified Wednesday that the images of naked young girls found in his home — playing in the bathtub, going to the toilet — were her daughters.

“Do you recognize the people in these photos?” Pierce County deputy prosecutor Bryce Nelson asked the woman, identified only as “D.C.” in the extraordinary opening of Powell’s trial on 14 counts of voyeurism.

“Yes,” she replied impassively.

“Who are they?”

“They’re my children.”

Powell, 62, had thousands of images of women and young girls on his computer, prosecutors said. They were found as police were searching the house he shared with his son for evidence in the disappearance of his daughter-in-law, Susan Cox Powell, who went missing in Utah in late 2009.

The photos of the neighbor girls, then ages 8 and 10, appeared to be screen captures from a video recording shot through an upstairs window, police and prosecutors said. Many of them focused on the girls’ breasts, buttocks and genital area.

“This case is about a secret,” Nelson said during opening statements. “That secret is, Steven Powell is a voyeur.”

D.C. testified that she never formally met Powell but recognized him from the neighborhood. “You drive down the street and you see someone you live next to and you wave, that’s the kind of interaction that I had,” she said. Then she identified Powell, seated expressionless at the defense table, as the man who lived next door to the home her family rented in 2006 and 2007.

Later, the elder of the two girls, now 15, took the stand wearing a blue hoodie.

“When you were in your bathroom with the door open and blinds open, did you expect you had some privacy there?” deputy prosecutor Grant Blinn asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

In court papers, prosecutors detailed a long list of other photos, many of them depicting Susan Powell, with whom the defendant was said to be obsessed, but others showing a variety of other women labeled with titles such as “Childbirth” (photos of a woman who gave birth in a tub), “Albertson’s Blonde,” “Cute Latina, 2004,” “Girls and mom, 2004,” “Lady across street.”

They also included photos of Powell himself in various states of undress interacting with some of the photos.

“I have been going nuts and nearly out of control sexually my entire life,” Steven Powell wrote in one of his journal entries cited by prosecutors. He said he believed that his daughter-in-law knew he was secretly photographing her in various stages of undress.

“The defendant wrote that he is a voyeur and Susan is an exhibitionist and they are a perfect match,” prosecutors wrote in their trial memorandum. “The defendant wrote that he is 90% sure that Susan knew he used to film her under the bathroom door.”

Susan Powell’s family has said their daughter was repulsed by her father-in-law and was trying to keep her husband away from his father’s influence.

Judge Ron Culpepper dismissed a separate count of pornography, ruling that the photos of the girls did not meet the definition under the law. He also ruled that Powell’s numerous journal entries detailing his feelings about his daughter-in-law were not admissible.

“We know about Josh Powell. We know about Susan Powell. I think we understand that that’s not what this case is about,” defense lawyer Mark Quigley said in his opening statement, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Quigley said the state would not be able to prove that Powell engaged in voyeurism. “Did the state satisfy its burden of proof?”

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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