Judge dismisses pornography count against Steve Powell
Tacoma, Wash. • From a revelation that Steve Powell once admitted he'd been out of control sexually nearly his entire life to a judge's decision to throw out a pornography charge filed against the man, the first day of trial for the father-in-law of missing Utah woman Susan Powell included a heavy dose of courtroom drama.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Culpepper on Monday ruled Powell will not go to trial on one count of possessing an image of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Now the judge must decide if jurors still being selected to hear 14 remaining counts of voyeurism can consider journal entries in which Powell wrote he is a voyeur and detailed his sexual interest in his daughter-in-law.
Prosecutors have said Powell, 62, took images of girls as young as 8 during a 10-year span, although the court case focuses on voyeurism episodes from 2006 and 2007.
Culpepper's ruling came after defense attorneys argued the pornography charge required proof Powell "initiated, contributed to, or in any way influenced the victim's conduct" - something prosecutors couldn't prove about images Powell allegedly filmed of two former neighbor girls bathing and using the toilet.
"It is my understanding that the state does not have any evidence that anyone posed or directed the girls," Culpepper said in his ruling from the bench.
The judge went on to say the depictions related to that count are not "depictions of minors engaged in explicit conduct."
Powell's trial will determine whether he victimized young girls. But attorneys on Monday focused extensively on his relationship with Susan as they debated the merits of presenting the journal entries to a jury.
Defense attorneys Mark Quigley and Travis Currie want Culpepper to block prosecutors from using the entries, written in 2003, 2004, and 2010.
Prosecutors said in March 2004, Powell wrote he and Susan were a perfect match since he was a voyeur and she an exhibitionist. In December 2003, he wrote he had been stalking Susan and making secret videos of her.
In April 2003, Powell wrote Susan liked to be admired and that he was a voyeur, prosecutors said. In September 2010, he wrote he was going nuts and had been out of control sexually almost his entire life.
Prosecutors Grant Blinn and Bryce Nelson argued the entries are relevant because they show Powell's history of voyeurism. Culpepper is expected to rule on the journals issue Tuesday morning.
Quigley and Currie also have requested limiting juror access to all of the images on a disc containing the images at issue in the court case. Images not at issue on that disc that could prejudice the jury include legal pornography, other images of women Powell filmed without their knowledge, and images of Powell "doing some things sexually," according to Currie.
Earlier Monday, just five potential jurors out of a pool of 70 brought into court said they couldn't be impartial in the case. Three of them cited news reports and two pointed to personal connections with Susan or her parents.
Culpepper asked the remaining 65 jurors to fill out questionnaires which will be reviewed by attorneys before jury selection resumes at 10:45 a.m. MST Tuesday.
As Powell's trial began, the parents of Susan Powell said they are hopeful the trial may yet reveal what happened to their daughter especially if a plea bargain can be reached. Chuck and Judy Cox maintain Steve Powell and his son, Josh, were involved in their daughter's disappearance.
The Coxes said they believe Powell enjoys the attention of the trial and is trying to hurt them by dragging out the case and not cooperating with police. Judy Cox said this is Powell's way to "stick it" to them and the world.
"He thinks this is going to hurt me?" said Chuck Cox. "I already imagine he has done as bad as he can."
Still, Monday brought new surprises to the family when they learned for the first time that Powell had written extensive journal entries about Susan.
"It just shows how sick and obsessive he is," said Denise Cox, Susan's sister, outside the courtroom. She said she was "fuming" as attorneys discussed the contents of Steve Powell's journals.
Testimony in the trial is expected to begin Wednesday with Pierce County sheriffs Detective Gary Sanders to be the first called, Blinn said Monday. The mother of Powell's two alleged victims, the victims themselves, and Detective Kevin Johnson will also take the witness stand, Blinn said.
Jennifer Graves, Steve Powell's daughter who lives in West Jordan, is also expected to testify against her father.
The trial will then break on Thursday and Friday, resuming the following Monday when prosecutors say they anticipate resting their case.
Then the defense will make its case. Two investigators will testify on Steve Powell's behalf, court documents show: Glenn Glover of the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel in Tacoma and Dave LaTourette with DL Investigations based in North Bend, Wash.
The trial is expected to end that Wednesday.
Alina Powell, Steve Powell's daughter, attended Monday's proceedings alone and declined to comment afterward. She sat taking notes in the back of the courtroom. Steve Powell , who wore a gray suit and tie to court, smiled briefly at his daughter as he was led out in handcuffs.
Culpepper last month allowed the case to move forward when he ruled evidence gathered from Powell's Puyallup, Wash., home, could be used at trial.
Attorneys had debated the constitutionality of a search warrant served at Powell's home. Law enforcement were looking for journals belonging to Susan when they discovered the cache of images that led to the charges against her father-in-law.
Susan Powell, 28, disappeared from her West Valley City home in December 2009. Police named her 36-year-old husband, who claimed he took the couple's young sons on a midnight camping trip on the night of her disappearance, as a person of interest in the case.
Josh Powell killed himself and his sons, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, in February at his Graham-area rental home. Police say he used a hatchet on the boys before lighting the home on fire in a gasoline-fueled blaze.
Live trial coverage
The Salt Lake Tribune will live stream the trial online once a jury is seated.
Potential prison time
Steven Craig Powell faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each of 15 counts against him.
If Powell is convicted on all counts, the judge could order him to serve consecutive sentences for a total of 75 years in prison.