Steve Powell sentencing: He could be free today or in a decade
What does Steve Powell have riding on Friday's sentencing hearing?
If things go well very well Powell could leave the courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., and be free in time for a seafood dinner that night at one of the restaurants overlooking Puget Sound.
If the prosecutor and the mother of the girls Powell filmed have their way, Powell will be eating in a prison cafeteria until about 2021.
That's the range of possibilities for Powell, who last month was convicted in Pierce County Superior Court of 14 felony counts of voyeurism. His sentence could land somewhere in the middle. Washington sentencing guidelines could put Powell's sentence at 43-57 months in prison.
One thing that's not likely in Friday's hearing is discussion of Powell's missing daughter-in-law, Susan Powell. Prosecutor, Grant Blinn, said the hearing will focus upon Steve Powell and the then-9- and 8-year-old neighbor girls he photographed through windows as they bathed and used the toilet.
"Our case is about the victims that were filmed in Washington," Blinn said.
The girls' mother will speak at the sentencing and ask for the 10-year sentence sought by prosecutors, said Anne Bremner, an attorney representing the victims as well as Susan Powell's family. Bremner said the mother will speak directly to Steve Powell and tell him about the anger and loss of security he has caused to her and her children.
Steve Powell will have the chance to address the judge. Any supporters he has will not be allowed to speak, but can submit letters on his behalf.
Also on Friday, Bremner intends to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages against Steve Powell on behalf of the girls. Bremner said she will file Friday because it will be the end of the criminal case and she'll have more access to police records and so she can serve Steve Powell with the lawsuit in the courtroom.
"I've been a lawyer for 29 years and I've never seen a case like this," Bremner said.
Steve Powell's fate is in the hands of the trial judge, Ronald Culpepper. While the judge can consider emotional pleas, the sentence Culpepper issues may come down to technical arguments and how he interprets Washington law.
In 2006, the Washington legislature increased the severity of and penalty for the crime of voyeurism. But at trial detectives admitted they couldn't pinpoint whether Steve Powell photographed the children after the change took effect.
In motions filed last week, Powell's lawyers argued it's practice for judges to favor the defendant when the court can't determine the date of crimes for which the laws have changed. Therefore, defense attorneys wrote, Culpepper should follow the pre-2006 law that makes the penalties zero to 12 months on each count.
The defense attorneys want the 14 counts to run concurrent. Powell has been in jail since his arrest in September and will receive credit for that time. One of Steve Powell's defense lawyers, Mark Quigley, said the Pierce County jail awards early release for good behavior. With the time served and credit for good behavior, the concurrent sentences of up to 12 months would mean Steve Powell's incarceration is over.
"He'd be out on Friday," Quigley said.
Blinn has argued in court motions that Culpepper should exceed the sentencing guidelines because Steve Powell was convicted of so many counts and the victims were children. The Washington Department of Corrections, which investigates defendants after conviction to make an independent recommendation about sentencing, also is recommending the 10-year sentence.
The report says Steve Powell is a risk to reoffend due to "sexual deviance." Besides photographing the girls, the report mentions how he peeped on and was infatuated with Susan Powell.
Powell's attorneys argue 10 years would be a sentence more common to violent sex crimes such as rape. They also point to a 2003 case in Pierce County where a defendant pleaded guilty to 16 counts of voyeurism and was sentenced to 261 days in jail. The victims in that case also were girls.
Quigley said his client will appeal his conviction on the grounds the search of Powell's home, which turned up digital evidence used to prosecute him, was illegal. Culpepper rejected that argument before trial.
After sentencing, will Steve Powell cooperate with authorities looking for Susan Powell?
'I can tell you I haven't had any inquires from West Valley or Pierce County police," Quigley said. "None."
The Susan Powell case
Susan Powell, pictured, was reported missing from her home in West Valley City on Dec. 7, 2009. Her husband, Josh Powell, was the only person of interest ever named by police. He claimed he last saw his wife the night before as he left with their two sons, then ages 4 and 2, and went camping in the west desert during a snowstorm. While investigating the disappearance, West Valley City police served a search warrant on Steve Powell's home in Puyallup, Wash., where they found the photographs of the neighbor girls. On Feb. 5 of this year, Josh Powell murdered his sons, Charlie and Braden, and killed himself in a fire at his rented home in Graham, Wash.
Online • His fate
O Powell's sentencing hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. MST on Friday. Watch a live stream of the hearing. > sltrib.com.
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