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Sins of the father: Steven Powell's behavior leaves a legacy of harm

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Jennifer Graves looks through a scrapbook at her home in West Jordan on Monday, April 30, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Live coverage: Steven Powell trial in Tacoma

Related: Voyeurism trial for Steven Powell begins Monday

Editor's note: Because this story deals with the harmful effects of pornography, some of the subject matter may not be suitable for all readers.

TACOMA, Wash. — Jennifer Graves wanted answers.

It had been six weeks since Susan Cox Powell had gone missing from her West Valley home and speculation was growing that her brother Josh Powell was responsible.

Now Graves was headed to Washington state to confront him herself at the home of her father and get a confession. But Josh remained silent.

Her father Steven Powell did not.

“Oh, it wasn't good. At one point he let out this string of swear words. And my husband was there with me, and holding it together pretty well. And we knew going in that it was probably going to be tense because I went in there for that reason,” Graves said.

It was Jan. 22, 2010, the last time she would speak to her father, who today sits in a Washington jail cell facing voyeurism and child pornography charges. Monday, the tragic family story centers on the family patriarch and enters its final chapter as the trial of Steven Powell begins.

A review of thousands of pages of public records, including divorce documents, social services reports and personal emails, and dozens of interviews with family members and friends reveals the startling impact Steven Powell has had on his ex-wife and five children. It is a legacy of harm that Graves believes would have continued to a third generation if left unchecked.

"There's a whole lot of parallels between my dad and Josh," Graves said. "I mean, it's really actually kind of scary how many lines are drawn between the two of them. And it's very possible if Josh (had been) allowed to keep the kids that the boys would have ended up following in his footsteps.

"I mean, how could you not when you're surrounded by two men who have these twisted, nasty beliefs? So you're going to end up like them, likely."

It wasn't always so.

Steven Powell, born in Portland, Ore., at one time was described by his wife as a loving husband and devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served an LDS mission to Argentina. He married Terrica Martin in the early 1970s and had five children: Jennifer, John, Josh, Michael and Alina.

At times they struggled financially, but Steven was able to maintain a steady job with a California-based furniture company as a delivery driver. But over the course of four decades, there was change.

A distrust of Mormonism developed, pornography was embraced, a hatred of his in-laws festered, and the controlling behavior of Steven Powell grew as the family endured a bitter divorce.

The man once described as a "thoughtful" and "devoted" husband would become obsessed with and sexually attracted to his daughter-in-law. He would allegedly take inappropriate photos of neighborhood children and feed his appetite for pornography.

What remains is a family split apart, siblings at odds, two grandchildren dead, a mother unaccounted for and a public in search of answers.

Pornography

If the downfall of Steven Powell could be pinpointed to one thing, many believe it was his strong addiction to pornography.

"I think pornography played a big role in tearing our family apart," Graves said. "Because it breaks down your mind, it breaks down families, it breaks down trust. It's going to lead to other things."

The deeper Steven Powell got into porn, the further he strayed from LDS beliefs.

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