The County-City Building in downtown Tacoma on Friday became the epicenter of the Susan Cox Powell saga, whose twists and turns have begun to border on the surreal.
Hearings related to the missing Utah mother were held in three courtrooms there throughout the day, including the afternoon arraignment of her father-in-law on charges of voyeurism and possession of inappropriate photographs of children.
Not-guilty pleas were entered on behalf of Steven C. Powell. Superior Court Judge pro tem Gary Steiner ordered the 61-year-old man jailed with bail set at $200,000.
Authorities have said the charges against Steven Powell are not directly related to his daughter-in-law’s disappearance.
Earlier in the day, the missing woman’s parents went to court to try to gain custody of her two children, who were taken into protective custody by sheriff’s detectives Thursday night when their paternal grandfather was arrested at his Puyallup-area home.
At a third hearing in another courtroom, Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan upheld an injunction preventing Susan Cox Powell’s husband from publishing his wife’s diaries.
Media outlets from across the nation covered all three hearings and jammed courthouse corridors afterward to interview witnesses.
Meanwhile Friday, investigators called off their search for Susan Cox Powell, 28, near Topaz Mountain in Juab County, Utah. They have been scouring the desert for 12 days after cadaver dogs indicated the presence of human remains in the area.
Searchers uncovered only some charred wood debris from what at first appeared to be a shallow grave.Susan Cox Powell, a Puyallup native, was last seen in December 2009 at her home in West Valley City, Utah. Her husband, Josh Powell, has been called a person of interest in her disappearance.
He has said he took the couple’s two young sons camping one night and returned home to find his wife gone. Josh Powell has denied playing a role in his wife’s disappearance.
He and their sons since have returned to Washington and have been living with Steven Powell.
Prosecutors on Thursday charged Steven Powell with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. If convicted as charged, he would face up to five years in prison.
The charges came after detectives reviewed more than 2,000 images of girls and adults stored on videotapes and CDs seized from Powell’s South Hill home last month as part of the investigation into his daughter-in-law’s disappearance.
Many of the pictures were taken in public, while others appeared to have been shot through windows using telephoto lenses, court documents state. The pictures focused on the subjects’ intimate parts. Investigators believe they were taken without the subjects’ permission.
Susan Cox Powell was the subject of some of the photographs.
During Friday’s arraignment, deputy prosecutor Grant Blinn said investigators believe the activity had been going on for at least 10 years.
Denise Cox, Susan Cox Powell’s sister, addressed the media after Steve Powell’s arraignment.
“I thought I’d seen it all from that family, but I haven’t,” she said.
Denise Cox said she thinks Steven Powell is involved in her sister’s disappearance – at least indirectly.
“I hope it’s a wake-up call that he’s not invincible to the law,” Cox said. “He knows what happened. I just want this all to come to a close whether she’s alive or dead. Just let us know.”
The News Tribune’s news partner, KIRO-7 Eyewitness News, reported Friday that Steven Powell was fired from his job at the state Department of Corrections. He’d worked as an account executive with Washington Correctional Industries selling furniture built by inmates to school districts, the station reported.
Susan Powell’s parents, Charles and Judith Cox, filed for custody of their two grandsons, who are 4 and 6, Friday morning. In their request, they ask that Josh Powell have no visitation unless it is strictly supervised.
Charles and Judy Cox wrote in their petition that they believe Josh Powell’s arrest is imminent.
“We have prepared this custody petition in anticipation of Josh being arrested for the disappearance, kidnapping/murder of our daughter,” the petition states. “Obviously, we are hoping against hope and sending out many prayers that our daughter is somehow, some way, alive.”
The arrest prompted a Cox family lawyer to directly accuse Josh Powell for the first time publicly of involvement in his wife’s disappearance.
“The time has come where we have to stop playing cat-and-mouse games: Josh Powell had something to do with the disappearance of the mother of these children,” Steve Downing told a Pierce County court commissioner during a Friday-morning hearing.
Josh Powell responded: “Everything they said is patently false. I am a good father to my sons.”
A decision on who gets custody of the boys could come Wednesday.
Earlier Friday morning, Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan upheld an injunction forbidding publication of diaries Susan Cox Powell wrote during childhood and adolescence.
Attorneys for Josh Powell argued against the injunction, framing it as a free-speech issue.
Attorneys for Susan Cox Powell’s parents argued that privacy was the decisive factor. Hogan agreed.
“This is a privacy case,” the judge said. “Publication will cease immediately.”
Staff writers Stacey Mulick and Sean Robinson, The Associated Press and The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this report.