Testimony begins in Steve Powell voyeurism trial
Tacoma, Wash. •Two girls Steve Powell is accused of secretly filming in various states of undress took the witness stand along with their mother Wednesday, the third day of Powell's voyeurism trial.
Powell, who is the father-in-law of missing West Valley City woman Susan Powell, is charged with 14 counts of voyeurism in connection with filming the girls when they were 9 and 8 years old. The girls are now ages 15 and 13.
Their mother testified her family had moved from Arizona to Washington in 2006 and were renting a home next to Powell's in South Hill, an unincorporated area of Puyallup. She and her husband were renting to see if they would like the neighborhood well enough to buy a house there, she testified.
The home, which had a loft and bedrooms on an upper floor, had no air conditioning. The mother testified she would often keep windows open for cross-ventilation.
The family moved out of the neighborhood in 2007, and the mother said she only saw Steve Powell in passing and waved on occasions such as when he was outside mowing his yard.
The mother recounted one day last year when a Pierce County Sheriff's detective was on the doorstep of her new home. She had picked up her daughters from school and all three were nervous about why the police were there, she said. She soon learned why.
"He explained to us that when we lived at our rental house, our neighbor had taken pictures of us," the mother said.
Prosecutor Bryce Nelson asked her if she had ever given anyone permission to film her children inside the family's home.
"Absolutely not," the mother replied.
The mother then confirmed photos taken of her children, which were shown in court, were of the girls in the home's bathroom.
On cross examination, defense attorney Mark Quigley implied another member of the Powell household perhaps John Powell may have taken the photos of the girls.
The mother said she saw another member of the Powell family outside occasionally. That person, with dark hair and a beard, was spotted outside with a robe and pajamas, she said.
In his opening statement, Nelson told jurors the girls would use the bathroom or change their clothes not thinking that someone was watching them.
"They'd do these things thinking they were in their own home, that they had some sense of privacy," he said.
Nelson said the case is about a well-kept secret Steve Powell hid for years: That he's a voyeur.
"This is a case about a secret," Nelson said. "A secret that Steve Powell kept hidden until Aug. 25, 2011."
When investigators seized files from Powell's home that day during a search for journals kept by Susan Powell, they came across hundreds of images of the two girls on a disc Powell had labeled "disc 12," Nelson said. Powell had meticulously labeled the hundreds of images he'd taken of his young neighbors into files such as "taking bath one" and "taking bath two."
"What it comes down to in this case is quite simple," Nelson said. "The evidence will show that the girls were photographed by the defendant, Steven Powell. The evidence will show that the defendant filmed the girls for sexual gratification."
Quigley in his opening argument reminded the jury that the case is about Steve Powell and not that of his missing daughter-in-law.
"We know the media is here. We know about Josh Powell. We know about Susan Powell. I think we understand that that's not what this case is about," Quigley said.
Quigley told jurors the case isn't about the credibility of witnesses, but about the sufficiency of evidence gathered by law enforcement.
"Did the state satisfy its burden of proof?" Quigley asked.
He said he believes the trial will prove that there isn't sufficient evidence to convict Powell of voyeurism crimes.
After opening statements, Detective Gary Sanders of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department testified about the images taken by Powell of the two girls. He said Powell filmed them from inside his bedroom.
Seven men and seven women 12 jurors and two alternates were seated Tuesday for the proceedings before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Culpepper.
Culpepper said Wednesday the trial is running ahead of schedule and that he anticipates testimony will wrap up Monday, with jury instructions on Tuesday.
The judge on Tuesday barred prosecutors from discussing most of Powell's sexually explicit journal entries at trial. Culpepper said eight journal entries, in which Steve Powell discussed his obsession with his daughter-in-law and sex fantasies, were irrelevant to the case and could make jurors biased against Steve Powell.
The judge did admit one journal entry where Steve Powell on Aug. 17., 2004, states, "I enjoy taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts." Steve Powell wrote in the same entry, "I sometimes use these images for self stimulation."
The judge has not yet ruled on whether a 2010 entry where Steve Powell wrote that he has been out of control sexually for the majority of his life should be admitted.
Culpepper has determined jurors may see images that Steve Powell took of himself discovered by investigators. Jurors saw one of those images of Steve Powell in his underwear on Wednesday. They also heard graphic descriptions from Sanders of photos Steve Powell took of himself committing a sex act with blue jeans on.
The judge on Monday ruled Steve Powell would not go to trial on one count of possessing an image of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
The judge's dismissal of the pornography charge unnerved the young victims in the Powell case, said the girls' attorney, Anne Bremner, following Wednesday's testimony.
"They weren't happy about it," she said. While the girls appeared nervous in court, Bremner said they were doing fine after the experience. "They're strong kids, they're a strong family. They girls really wanted also to see that justice was done."
The parents of Susan Powell have said they are hopeful the trial may yet reveal what happened to their daughter especially if a plea bargain can be reached somehow. Chuck and Judy Cox maintain Steve Powell and his son, Josh, were involved in their daughter's disappearance.
Alina Powell, Steve Powell's daughter, has attended the proceedings alone and has declined to comment so far.
Denise Cox, Susan Powell's sister, was emotional after Wednesday's hearing, particularly because Sanders mentioned that her nephews, Braden and Charlie, had been living in the home where the alleged voyeurism occurred.
Josh Powell killed himself and the two boys in February at his Graham-area rental home.
Susan Powell, 28, disappeared from her West Valley City home in December 2009. Police named her 36-year-old husband, Josh Powell, as a person of interest in the case.
Potential prison time
Steve Craig Powell faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each of 14 voyeurism counts against him.
If Powell is convicted on all counts, the judge could order him to serve consecutive sentences for a total of 70 years in prison.