Lack of body made it difficult to file charges in Powell case, ex-DA says

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

WEST VALLEY CITY — Finding the body of Susan Powell was key to any decision to file charges in the case, former district attorney Lohra Miller said Monday.

Miller, who was the Salt Lake County DA for about a year after Susan Powell disappeared, said her office worked with West Valley police but never formally considered filing criminal charges against Josh Powell, the woman's husband.

"It never did get to a point we felt like we could file charges," she said. "The difficulty comes where you are trying a case without a body. You have to have either a substantial period of time where the person is missing where you can assume she's dead and prove behind a reasonable doubt she's dead to a jury, or some pretty overwhelming evidence as to the fact that she's dead and the person did it.

"They're very, very hard cases to prove."

She told the Deseret News that she had a prosecutor in her office work "hand-in-hand" with West Valley police. She said at least two of her prosecutors had met at different times with West Valley police to discuss their investigation. But her office never sat down with police to formally screen the case for criminal charges.

That's led to widespread criticism of those involved in the case since search warrants were unsealed Friday that outlined new details about what police knew within the first three months of the disappearance of Susan Powell.

What went wrong, and what specific evidence was missing? Why did two years pass with no arrest and end in the deaths of the Powell children?

Miller said every murder has two scenes: the crime scene where the murder occurred and the place where the body is discovered.

"It's critical to be able to tie the two together to be able to prove your case. When you're trying a murder case without a body, it's like trying a case with one hand tied behind your back. It can be done. You just really have to have a strong case," she said.

"Eventually charges could have been filed without a body. It's one of those things that takes time and it just wasn't there."

Others, including some family members, now disagree and cite evidence, including: Susan's blood was found on the floor next to a couch in her home; a couch that had recently been cleaned and had fans blowing on it to dry it; Susan's cellphone in Josh's car with the SIM card missing; a tarp, gas can, shovel and blanket in Josh's car; Josh's son telling others that he went camping with his mother and father but his mother didn't come home; Josh Powell emptying his wife's IRA account shortly after she disappeared; 800 unaccounted miles put on a rental car by Josh Powell in two days.

The warrant also referred to: lies that Josh Powell was caught telling to police and to his sister; information about marital and financial problems the couple was experiencing; notes and letters from Susan indicating a fear of Josh Powell, even indicating that if she died, her death may not be an accident; and a witness who said Josh liked to camp in the western desert area, which is full of mine shafts and "tunnels that are very unstable so you could dispose of someone and no one would ever search for the body."

West Valley Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen defended his department's handling of the case: "If we could have arrested him we would have," he said Monday, before attending an unrelated community forum in Salt Lake City.

He said he would not have done anything differently in the case and put the blame squarely on Josh Powell. Could the children's deaths have been prevented?

"I don't think so," the chief said. "I think Josh had it planned out."

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