Jurors shown photos of 2 sisters allegedly taken by Steve Powell

Staff writerMay 9, 2012 

For 30 minutes Wednesday, a Pierce County sheriff’s detective narrated for a jury a series of digital images as they flashed across a video screen in Superior Court.

The shots – apparently still photos clipped from video recordings – showed two sisters, ages 10 and 8, in various stages of undress, taking baths, using the toilet.

One showed one of the girls in Care Bear pajamas getting ready for bed.

Several of the shots focused on the girls’ private parts.

Deputy prosecutors Grant Blinn and Bryce Nelson contend Steven Craig Powell took the photos. Powell, 62, lived adjacent to the girls’ home in 2006 and 2007. They also allege Powell, on trial on 14 counts of voyeurism, used the photos for sexual gratification.

“This case is about a secret,” Nelson told jurors during his opening statement in the case. “That secret is Steven Powell is a voyeur.”

Powell is accused of taking the girls’ photos surreptitiously from his bedroom window, which was in direct line of sight of a window in a neighboring house that, from a certain angle, afforded a view of the upstairs bathroom.

He has pleaded not guilty.

One of Powell’s attorneys, Mark Quigley, told jurors the defense plans to “challenge every piece of evidence” put forth by prosecutors but won’t put on a case of its own. Powell will not testify, Quigley said during his opening statement.

The case has attracted national media attention because of Powell’s connection to missing Utah mother Susan Cox Powell. She disappeared from her home in December 2009, and Powell’s son, Josh, was being investigated in her disappearance when he killed Susan’s and his two sons and himself in Pierce County in February.

Judge Ron Culpepper has severely limited how much prosecutors can talk about Susan Powell’s disappearance during her father-in-law’s voyeurism trial, noting she is not named as a victim in any of the Pierce County counts.

Blinn and Nelson had tried to get journal entries written by Steven Powell about his sexual obsession with his daughter-in-law admitted into the trial, along with photos he took of her, but Culpepper said no.

Lead detective Gary Sanders was the first witness.

He testified about overseeing the search of Steven Powell’s house in August 2011. Detectives were looking for clues in Susan Powell’s disappearance when they found a disc filled with hundreds of images of girls and women. The disc was in a cardboard box inside Steve Powell’s bedroom, Sanders said.

Some of the subjects of the photos were in various stages of undress, the detective testified. None appeared to know she was being photographed, he said.

Detectives homed in on images of two girls in particular, Sanders said. They were photographed in the bathtub or using the toilet. The images appeared to be taken through an open second-story window.

Investigators later tracked down a family who’d lived next door to Powell in 2006 and 2007. They learned the family included two daughters who often used the upstairs bathroom.

Sanders said he showed the mother of the girls some of the photos found in Powell’s house.

“She said, ‘That’s my daughter,’ ” he testified.

Sanders told jurors the images of the daughters could have been taken only from Powell’s bedroom, given the angles of the shots and the fact the girls’ bathroom was on the second floor of their house.

During cross-examination by Quigley, Sanders testified that Powell was not the only person living in the house at the time of the search. Several of his grown children, including Josh Powell, also were living in the house at the time, Sanders said in answer to one of Quigley’s questions.

The mother of the two girls and the girls themselves took the stand during the afternoon.

The woman, who was referred to in court by her initials, D.C., said her family moved into Powell’s Puyallup-area neighborhood in summer 2006.

She testified she often opened the windows in the house to try to beat the summer heat.

Her girls, she said, often left the upstairs bathroom door open while they were bathing or using the toilet because her youngest was afraid to be alone. She testified she didn’t think anything of it at the time because she didn’t think anyone could see inside the bathroom from outside the house.

She wiped at tears as she looked at photos of her girls, allegedly taken by Powell, whom she knew by sight but had never met.

“Did you ever give anyone permission to film your kids inside your house?” Blinn asked her at one point.

“Absolutely not,” the woman replied.

Under cross-examination by Quigley, she said she never saw Powell with a camera at his bedroom window.

She also said she remembered seeing another man at Powell’s house during that time period. The fellow was often outside in a bathrobe, she testified.

Her girls, now 15 and 13, testified they did not know anyone was photographing them as they used the bathroom back in 2006 and 2007. They also said they never gave permission for anyone to do so.

Blinn asked the youngest girl if she ever suspected anything was amiss while she lived near Powell.

“I felt safe,” she said.

“Why?” Blinn asked.

“It was my house,” she replied.

Quigley declined a chance to cross-examine either girl.

The trial is set to resume Monday. Prosecutors told Culpepper they expect to call their last witnesses and rest then.

Closing arguments could come as soon as Tuesday.

adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com

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blog.thenewstribune.com/crime

@TNTadam

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