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

Even if there was enough evidence to file charges, Morgan said his job as a prosecutor would be to make sure there's enough evidence for a conviction. He, too, was concerned about Pierce County second-guessing what an agency in Utah was doing.

In 2004, Mark Hacking was arrested for the high-profile murder of his wife, Lori Hacking. At the time of his arrest, his wife's body had not been found. Prosecutors said they were ready to proceed with charges and a trial even without a body. A lot of physical evidence was collected in that case, in addition to a reported confession he gave to a witness. Hacking was arrested after police discovered there were many lies he had been telling his family for years and he had been living a double life.

In 1995, 15-year-old high school student Kiplyn Davis disappeared in Spanish Fork. Her body has never been found. Timmy Brent Olsen pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with her death last year.

Another high-profile case nationally involved Casey Anthony, who was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder by a federal grand jury in connection with the death of her 3-year-old daughter. It wasn't until two months later that the remains of Caylee Anthony were found. A jury acquitted Anthony of murder, but found her guilty of providing false information to law enforcers.

West Valley officials continued to back Nielsen and the police department Monday. Neither assistant city manager Paul Issac nor City Councilman Tom Huynh said they had any plans to call for an independent investigation of their department's handling of the case. Huynh said the council may talk about it with the chief, but he supports the job the chief is doing and does not believe there is blame to be placed.

On the Friends and Family of Susan Powell Facebook page, Kiirsi Hellewell, who was Susan's best friend, said she agreed with the comments of West Valley Mayor Mike Winder that no one cared more about the investigation than Nielsen and his investigators and they have put many long hours into trying to solve the case.

There is not a state agency in Utah that oversees another law enforcement agency.

After kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart was found in 2003, then-Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson called for an independent review of how Salt Lake police handled the investigation.

What went wrong?

Dec. 10, 2009: Josh Powell instantly comes under suspicion, and within weeks, police know that he lied to investigators and lied to friends. Blood evidence was collected, as was Susan Powell's cellphone. But within a month, Josh Powell moved to Washington state from West Valley City, hindering Utah authorities' investigation.

Aug. 19, 2011: West Valley police search abandoned mine shafts near Ely, Nev. Former Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller confirmed this week that finding the body of Susan Powell was key to filing charges. "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."

Feb. 5, 2012: Josh Powell was motivated by control, but slowly lost that control. He lost full-time custody of his children in September 2011. He failed to regain custody after a series of hearings. After revelations about pornography found on his computer made it to Washington state child welfare workers in January, it appeared he would not regain custody. He killed his children and himself by torching his home. West Valley police continue to call him "a person of interest" in the death of his wife.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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