Charlie and Braden Powell were the focus of a legislative committee hearing at the Capitol on Friday, nearly one year after the two young boys were murdered.
Josh Powell killed his sons, ages 7 and 5, on Feb. 5, 2012, when he attacked them with a hatchet at his Graham-area home before setting fire to the house, killing the three of them.
The boys’ maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, attended Friday’s hearing to ask lawmakers to make changes in state custody laws.
They testified before the Senate Law & Justice Committee in support of the Charlie-Braden Act, sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. The bill would prohibit child custody from being granted to suspects in murder investigations.
“Without this law, a surviving spouse is essentially able to achieve custody by murder,” Chuck Cox said. “If the law is adopted, it will be a deterrent by removing the automatic custody benefit of making your spouse disappear permanently.”
Cox testified that he believes his grandchildren might still be alive if the proposed legislation had been in effect before they were killed by Josh Powell — a man Cox said he believes is responsible for the 2009 disappearance of his daughter, Susan Cox Powell.
It is unclear, however, how much protection Roach’s proposal would have offered the Powell children.
Josh Powell was not officially a suspect in his wife’s case at the time of the children’s deaths. And, while he was a person of interest in the Utah investigation surrounding his wife’s 2009 disappearance, the legislation does not cover suspects in missing-person cases.
Powell had lost primary custody of his children four months before the slayings, which took place during a supervised visit.
Cox also testified that he believes current laws and policies “favor the rights of the parents over the safety and best interest of the child” and limit the Department of Social and Health Services and family courts in providing safety for children.
Rick Bartholomew testified on behalf of the family law section of the Washington State Bar Association. He said it opposes the bill because it doesn’t specify what types of murders would be covered by the law or define what an “active” murder investigation is. He also raised concerns that the bill would require law enforcement to disclose some information to suspects that could harm investigations.
Roach, who has been a vocal critic of the handling of the Powell case, said her proposal would “tighten the rules” and give future judges another tool to use in keeping kids safe. She also said that the proposal is one of six derived from the Powell children’s deaths.
“One of the things I’m bringing forward this year is that grandparents should have a standing in courtrooms,” Roach said. “They don’t have that right now.”
The Powell murders led to DSHS empaneling a Child Fatality Review committee to investigate the handling of the case. The committee’s 12-page report includes a number of findings and recommendations that lawmakers have begun to address.
One of the recommendations will receive attention next week when Senate Bill 5315, sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, receives a hearing Monday before the Senate Committee on Human Services & Corrections. The bill would require social workers to consult with law enforcement when a parent who is the subject of a criminal investigation requests visitation with a child.Jimmy Lovaas: 360-943-7123 jimmy.lovaas@ thenewstribune.com