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Washington judge sets May date for Steve Powell trial

Court » Steve Powell is charged with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possessing an image of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

By melinda Rogers

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Mar 16 2012 04:18 pm • Last Updated Apr 30 2012 09:47 am

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.

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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.

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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.

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