The voyeurism and pornography trial for the father-in-law of missing West Valley City mother Susan Powell is now scheduled to take place May 7.
A Pierce County Superior Court Judge in Tacoma, Wash. on Friday granted a motion to continue the scheduled eight-day trial for 61-year-old Steve Powell. His defense attorneys are handling a homicide case that conflicted with Powell’s previous March 20 trial date.
Powell is charged with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possessing an image of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He has requested a jury trial, slated to be heard by Judge Ronald Culpepper.
Trial continuances are not uncommon in the court system. Powell had previously been scheduled to start trial on Nov. 16, but that date was continued to March 20 to give attorneys in the case more time to prepare.
The Washington attorneys representing Powell earlier this month filed a motion to suppress evidence at the trial, arguing some evidence obtained by law enforcement — including a CD containing photos from a locked compartment in Powell’s bedroom — was gathered through an “overly broad” search warrant that violated his constitutional rights. An April 23 hearing has been scheduled on the motion.
Powell’s attorneys, Mark T. Quigley and Travis Currie, who both work for the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel, wrote that the images at issue were found in Powell’s bedroom during an Aug. 25 search of his Puyallup, Wash., home. The search was conducted after Pierce County Detective Gary Sanders obtained a search warrant allowing him to seize journals belonging to Susan Powell, digital media that contained copies of her journals, as well as “any other fruits or instrumentalities determined to be evidence of kidnapping, homicide and obstruction of justice.”
While Sanders sought Susan Powell’s journals, he seized several CDs in Steve Powell’s bedroom in a locked compartment, Quigley and Currie wrote. They argue that taking the CDs violated Steve Powell’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“Nowhere in Detective Sanders’ affidavit are facts articulated why these journals would have any evidence of criminal conduct,” Quigley and Currie wrote. “The affidavit does not describe what type of information may be in the journals, or how that information may be evidence of a crime. The affidavit provides no facts explaining how the journals could provide further intelligence of investigative leads. The affidavit fails to state facts which explain how the journals would preserve or safeguard the investigation.”
Quigley and Currie argued law enforcement had already obtained Susan Powell’s journal written from January 2002 to October 2009, which included entries during the time she was married to Josh Powell — the only publicly named person of interest in the case before he killed himself and his two sons last month in a blaze set at his Graham, Wash., rental home.
The two attorneys also dispute Sanders’ allegation that Josh Powell and his father were uncooperative with police investigating Susan Powell’s December 2007 disappearance from the couple’s West Valley City home.
Steve Powell consented to two searches of his home, which he had been sharing with his sons and grandsons, before the August search warrant was issued, Quigley and Currie argued. He also was interviewed “multiple times” by the West Valley City Police Department, FBI and U.S. Marshal’s Office. Powell himself informed West Valley police about Susan Powell’s journals in a November 16, 2010 e-mail, Quigley and Currie argued.
Steve Powell also went on national television and posted contents of the journals on a website, www.susanpowell.org, to share the information, the defense attorneys state. Those actions “do not constitute criminally obstructive behavior,” Quigley and Currie argued.
The two attorneys want the judge in Powell’s case to suppress the evidence on the CDs. Prosecutor Grant Blinn, who will file his response to the motion in the coming days, has said he believes the search was not illegal.
“The detectives were meticulous in their investigation, and I’m confident that the warrant will be upheld,” Blinn said.
During an initial court hearing for Steve Powell last fall, Blinn said Powell took images over a 10-year span, although the court case focuses on voyeurism episodes from 2006 and 2007. Powell, who has pleaded not guilty, is being held in the Pierce County jail on a $200,000 bail.
Sheriff’s deputies from Tacoma, Wash., arrested Powell on Sept. 22 after detectives from West Valley City returned to search the home Powell shared with his son, Josh; his grandsons; and his adult children Alina Powell and John Powell. Detectives were looking for potential evidence in the case of Susan Powell, who disappeared from her West Valley City home on Dec. 6, 2009, and found images of the woman taken surreptitiously by Steve Powell, prosecutors have alleged.
Steve Powell has said his daughter-in-law made sexual advances toward him -- allegations disputed by Susan Powell’s friends and family. Steve Powell made national television appearances where he stated that he had romantic feelings for his daughter-in-law and that he wished their relationship had been more intimate than it was.
Susan Powell had reportedly told her husband’s sister, Jennifer Graves, of West Jordan, that Powell made her uncomfortable and sent her inappropriate nude photos of men in a package containing photos of her favorite movie star. Graves has said her sister-in-law also said that Steve Powell made remarks about Susan Powell “sharing” herself with him and his son.
Steve Powell has declined multiple jailhouse interview requests from The Salt Lake Tribune. He is currently in the county’s main jail and, with the exception of his attorney, is allowed to meet with visitors for only one hour a week.
With the exception Jennifer Graves, several of Powell family members have defended their father.
“The arrest comes as a surprise to all individuals I have talked to, especially those closest to my father,” wrote Michael C. Powell, 29, who is a student living in Minneapolis, in court documents. “Everyone is of course saddened by it. The charges are not consistent with the way I know my father to behave.”
Michael Powell wrote that he and his siblings do not intend to post bail for their father.
On a website created in January called “4thekidzz”, which has since been taken down, Michael Powell wrote that he didn’t believe law enforcement has evidence to support the charges against his father.
“Laws in the state of Washington are very lax, such that there is no requirement to present evidence for an arrest until months into a criminal proceeding. This is why they have been able to keep my father jailed for months now without evidence,” Michael Powell wrote. He claimed law enforcement fabricated charges to “inflict maximum damage to the Powell family’s reputation and long-term financial situation.”
Graves, who is estranged from her father and siblings, has said that she was relieved her father was arrested so he could not victimize other people. She said Powell has a pornography addiction and she and her husband made it a point to never leave their children alone with Powell because of his history of questionable behavior.
She wrote in a declaration in support of having her nephews live with the Coxes that as a 12-year-old, she went on a work trip with Steve Powell and that he watched a television show involving naked women while she was in the room.
“Pornography has been an issue in this family for three decades. When my parents divorced, pornography was an issue during the proceeding,” Graves wrote. “Joshua knew about the pornography then and his statements presently that he knows nothing of our father’s pornographic inclinations and material is untruthful.”
An impending continuation of Powell’s trial raises the question of whether he may consider a potential plea agreement offered by prosecutors before he heads to trial.
Quigley has said he expects his client would not take a plea deal.
An attorney for Chuck and Judy Cox, Susan Powell’s parents, said the Cox family is hopeful Steve Powell’s trial may possible bring forth answers in the case of their missing daughter.
Steve Downing said that Chuck and Judy Cox are planning to attend part of Steve Powell’s trial. Powell’s attorneys filed a court document stating that Powell will not provide any information to law enforcement related to Susan Powell. But the Coxes are holding out hope, Downing said.
“They do hope that somehow, someway, information is obtained from or through that process that will lead them to the whereabouts of Susan,” Downing said.
But he said it’s unlikely Susan Powell could be brought up at trial, since the charges Powell will be going to trial on are not related to her. Downing said a potential plea agreement could bring information about Susan Powell into the mix, however.
“If anything, any knowledge he may have, may impact any plea agreement that might be entered,” Downing said. “I’m just hoping, and that’s all it is, that ... there will be enough pressure applied or there would be something that played on his conscience to disclose what he knows.
“I can assure you, my clients are never going to stop looking for her,” Downing said.