Trial to begin for father of suspect in Utah wife’s disappearance

SEATTLE – The voyeurism and child pornography charges Steve Powell is facing as his trial begins today in Tacoma have nothing to do with the horrific murder-suicide of his son, Josh, and Josh’s two young boys. Nor are they about the bizarre disappearance of Josh’s wife, Susan, from their Utah home in 2009.

But Susan Powell’s relatives hope the trial nevertheless sheds light on those tragedies.

“We don’t expect a great deal, but we want to be there,” said her father, Chuck Cox. “Maybe he’ll decide he has lost, and that he needs to propose a bargain to tell the detectives what he knows. Perhaps he might decide he can inflict one more insult by blurting out something that might be useful.”

Steve Powell has been a central figure in his family’s very public disintegration over the past two years. Last summer, as authorities from Washington and Utah stepped up their efforts to solve Susan’s disappearance, he professed his love for her on national television and claimed they had a sexually charged relationship, something her parents angrily denied.

When police searched Steve Powell’s home and vehicles in Puyallup, Wash., they said they discovered thousands of voyeuristic images on Steve’s computers – including shots of young neighbor girls bathing and using the toilet. There were also images of Susan that appeared to be secretly recorded, and pictures of naked women with Susan’s head superimposed, authorities said.

The arrest prompted the state to take custody of Josh Powell’s sons, Charlie and Braden, who were living with their dad at Steve Powell’s home. The boys were turned over to Susan’s parents, prompting a custody fight that ended Feb. 5, when Josh Powell locked a social worker out of his home during what was supposed to be a supervised Sunday visit with his sons. He attacked Charlie and Braden, 7 and 5, with a hatchet, then lit the house in a gas-fueled fire that consumed all three of them as the social worker frantically called 911.

Steve Powell, who had a close relationship with his son, has remained jailed on $200,000 bail since his arrest last September, and he has made no public statements about the murder-suicide. He is charged with more than a dozen counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of child pornography. If convicted, he would face a guideline sentence of about four years; however, the state has alleged aggravating circumstances that could result in a longer term.

Police in West Valley City, Utah, have characterized Steve Powell as uncooperative in their investigation of Susan’s dis­appearance. He has invoked his right to remain silent, and no evidence has emerged to suggest he traveled to Utah the weekend his daughter-in-law disappeared.

Before he died, Josh Powell maintained he knew nothing about what happened to her, because he had taken the boys on a midnight camping trip in the freezing Utah desert when she vanished. Police say her blood was found in the house, on the floor near a sofa that had just been cleaned, and that within days of her disappearance, Josh Powell cleaned out her retirement accounts. He gave some statements that were obviously false when first questioned by police, investigators said.

Jury selection in Steve Powell’s voyeurism case is scheduled to begin today . Opening statements are expected Wednesday.

One of Powell’s lawyers, Mark Quigley, said he expected some of the backstory of the case to be discussed at the trial, but he added: “We know what it’s about and what it’s not about. It’s not about his son and his son’s wife.”

He declined to say whether he expects Powell to testify.

The state’s potential witnesses include investigators from Washington and Utah, as well as the mother of the neighbor girls Powell is accused of recording.

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