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Josh Powell’s family maintains option to prove Susan is dead

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Missing woman Susan Powell

By nate carlisle

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 11 2014 05:23PM
Updated Jul 12, 2014 04:14PM

Josh Powell’s heirs, who for more than four years argued his innocence in the disappearance of his wife, now suggest in a court filing they would be willing to try to prove Susan Powell is already dead if it helps them collect money from her life insurance policy.

And while the filing doesn’t specify that the finger would be pointed at Josh Powell, lawyers for Susan Powell’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, say that would be the only option.

"What else could they do?" Seattle attorney Anne Bremner asked Friday. "If you’re going to prove it by clear and convincing evidence, which is the requirement, what do they have?"

Joshua Lee, a Utah attorney representing the Powells, said the filing does not necessarily mean what Bremner thinks and is an example of a lawyer trying to maintain options.

"I would imagine it has to do with simply the date [of Susan Powell’s death] and not the cause," Lee said.

Lee did not issue the filing in question for the Powells. It was made by Tacoma, Wash., attorney Tom J. West. He was unavailable for comment Friday.

At issue is $3.5 million in life insurance proceeds for Josh and Susan Powell and their two sons, Charlie and Braden. A federal court case in Washington state and a state court case in Utah are aimed at determining who is eligible to collect.

In a recent filing in the federal case, the Powells’ lawyer wrote that, depending on the outcome of the Utah case, the Powells "may seek to bring an action under the Utah Presumption of Death Statute, based upon available evidence, to establish a date of death earlier than December 6, 2014."

Utah law says someone can be declared deceased five years after they disappear. Susan Powell was last seen Dec. 6, 2009, at her West Valley City home. She was 28.

Her husband, Josh Powell, was considered a person of interest in her disappearance. He killed himself and 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden in a house fire in Graham, Wash., on Feb. 5, 2012.

Josh Powell’s mother, Terrica, sister Alina and brother John have argued they, as his heirs, should be able to collect the life insurance money on the entire family. New York Life Insurance Co. wants a federal judge in Washington to sort out whether the changes to the beneficiaries Josh Powell, 36, made to those policies after Susan Powell disappeared — from his wife to his family members — are valid and still payable given the murder-suicide that resulted in his death and that of his children. It also wants the court to decide what should happen with a policy in Susan Powell’s name.

Meanwhile, Chuck Cox, in 2013, was made conservator of Susan Powell’s estate in Utah. It’s possible any life insurance proceeds could go to that estate.

The Powells are challenging Chuck Cox’s appointment as conservator. To boot Chuck Cox, Bremner said, they could try to prove at a hearing or trial that Susan Powell actually died sometime prior to Josh Powell’s death. The Powells could then claim they are the proper conservators and seek to inherit and manage Susan Powell’s estate.

Any such argument by the Powells would be a complete reversal. Alina Powell, especially, has been a staunch supporter of Josh Powell, arguing her brother did not kill his wife. At various times Alina Powell has suggested her sister-in-law may have run off with another man or that West Valley City police ignored other leads.

Any such hearing or trial could be years away and it’s unclear if it would happen in federal or state court.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

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