Judge rules Powell's 'fixation' can't be part of his voyeurism trial

Staff writerMay 8, 2012 

With his son, Josh, dead, Puyallup-area resident Steven Craig Powell has become the focal point in the disappearance of his daughter-in-law.

But a Pierce County jury will hear little if anything about Susan Cox Powell during Steve Powell’s voyeurism trial, which will kick off in earnest Wednesday in Superior Court with opening statements.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper on Tuesday swore in a jury of seven men and seven women to hear the case. Two will serve as alternates.

After seating the jury, Culpepper ruled most of the journal entries written by Steven Powell that prosecutors had hoped to introduce as evidence were not admissible.

The entries mainly were about what Culpepper called Powell’s “very strange fixation” with his daughter-in-law, who went missing in Utah in December 2009 and is presumed dead.

Josh Powell was under investigation in her disappearance when he killed the couple’s two young sons and himself in Pierce County in February. He attacked his sons with a hatchet before setting fire to his home with the three of them inside, authorities say.

Josh Powell was never charged in his wife’s disappearance.

Authorities were searching his father’s house last summer for clues in Susan Powell’s disappearance when they found images of naked and seminude girls and women on computers and digital storage devices.

They also found journals in which Steven Powell, 62, wrote about his lust for his son’s wife and about taking photographs of her that he later used for sexual gratification.

Deputy prosecutors Grant Blinn and Bryce Nelson had argued that the journal entries showed Steven Powell’s state of mind when he allegedly snapped photos of two neighbor girls, ages 10 and 8, while they used the toilet or bathed in 2006-07.

The girls did not know they were being photographed.

Defense attorneys Mark Quigley and Travis Currie argued the journal entries were not relevant to the case against their client and, if introduced, would prejudice his right to a fair trial.

While creepy, Culpepper ruled, the entries about Susan Powell, who was 28 when she disappeared, are not relevant to the 14 counts of voyeurism with which Steven Powell is charged and to which he has pleaded not guilty.

“This is all about him stalking Susan,” the judge said of most of the entries. “I don’t think that proves much about voyeurism charges in Pierce County.”

The judge will allow prosecutors to admit one journal entry from August 2004 in which Steven Powell wrote, “I enjoy taking video shots of pretty girls in short and skirts, beautiful women of any age” and keeping the footage for his sexual gratification.

That entry seemed to go to the heart of the case and might be valuable to the jury, Culpepper said.

Court will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday so Culpepper can rule on how many photographs will be admitted in the trial. Jurors have been summoned to court at 10 a.m.

Jury selection took the better part of two days as lawyers on both sides quizzed 70 potential jurors about their exposure to news coverage of the Susan Powell saga and their attitudes about sex crimes.

A large majority of the pool had heard about the disappearance, but most said they could remain impartial.

Prosecutors are set to begin presenting witnesses Wednesday. The trial will break for Thursday and Friday and resume Monday. The state expects to rest its case Tuesday at the latest.

The two girls Powell is alleged to have photographed and their mother are among the prosecution’s witnesses.

Defense attorneys Quigley and Currie have not said whether Steven Powell will take the stand.

Prosecutors have said they intend to seek an exceptional sentence for Powell if he’s convicted. The maximum sentence for a single count of voyeurism is five years.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644

adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/crime

Twitter: @TNTadam

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