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Steven Powell pleads not guilty to voyeurism, porn charges; Chuck Cox blames Josh Powell for daughter's disappearance

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 1:01 p.m. MDT

Steven Powell (Pierce County Sheriff\'s Department) Steven Powell (Pierce County Sheriff\'s Department)

PUYALLUP, Wash. — Steven Powell pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of voyeurism involving young girls Friday and was ordered held on $200,000 cash only bail.

The not guilty pleas capped off a flurry of activity in the Susan Cox Powell case over 24 hours — starting with the arrest of her father-in-law Thursday night and multiple court hearings and motions on Friday related to the missing woman's childhood diaries and custody of her two children.

Appearing in a jail jumpsuit, Steven Powell's appearance in court was brief. He was charged in Pierce County, Wash., Superior Court with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of materials of minors engaged in explicit conduct. Police say they found about 2,000 photographs of young children, mostly young girls and many in partial states of undress.

Josh Powell , the husband of Susan Powell, answers questions outside his Magna home on December 10, 2009.  (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Josh Powell , the husband of Susan Powell, answers questions outside his Magna home on December 10, 2009. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

If Powell does make bail, the judge said he cannot leave the Seattle and Puyallup areas, and ordered him to have no contact with the alleged victims or come within 1,000 feet of their residence. He will also not be allowed to have any contact at all with children 18 and under and must stay away from schools and playgrounds.

After the hearing, an emotional Denise Cox, Susan Powell's sister, said she believes Steven Powell either had something to do with her sister's disappearance or knows something about it.

"Give up. I wanna know, I want to know what happened to her," was her tearful message to Steven Powell.

Cox, who has not previously spoken publicly about the investigation, said she has accepted the fact that her sister is likely dead.

Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, seen on Aug. 18, 2011, has said publicly he believes Susan Powell may have run away with another Utah man who went missing around the same time. (Deseret News archives) Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, seen on Aug. 18, 2011, has said publicly he believes Susan Powell may have run away with another Utah man who went missing around the same time. (Deseret News archives)

"I hope the truth comes out soon," she said. "It's hard. I want this all to come to a close."

Also Friday, the parents of Susan Powell for the first time directly accused Josh Powell in connection with their daughter's disappearance.

"We have been reluctant to acknowledge what has been the feeling of many others and that is simply that our daughter is dead. Whether our daughter is being held against her will somewhere or whether she is dead, we both believe the father, Josh Powell, is directly responsible for her disappearance," Chuck and Judy Cox said in court documents filed Friday.

The Coxes also Friday requested custody of Susan and Josh's two sons, ages 6 and 4, in a nearly 90-page document.

"We have prepared this custody petition in anticipation of Josh being arrested for the disappearance, kidnapping/murder of our daughter. Obviously, we are hoping against hope and sending out many prayers that our daughter is somehow, some way found alive," the Coxes said in their petition filed Friday.

This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows Susan Powell. The 28-year-old mother from the Salt Lake City area was reported missing on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. (Hardman Photography, Amber Hardman/Associated Press) This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows Susan Powell. The 28-year-old mother from the Salt Lake City area was reported missing on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. (Hardman Photography, Amber Hardman/Associated Press)

The children are currently in protective custody in Washington. Another custody hearing will be held next week.

Josh Powell did not say a word to reporters as he left the courthouse Friday.

Chuck Cox was asked about all of the activity of the past 24 hours, including Steven Powell's arrest.

"I think it's a sad day for the Powell family that this has come out. I am relieved that the children are no longer in that household," he said.

Cox said he did not know if any of the alleged pornographic material seized from Steven Powell's house included his grandchildren. He called the crimes Steven Powell is accused of committing "disgusting."

"I think it very clearly shows that (Susan's) concerns were justified about Steven Powell, it supports everything she said about him," he said. “My daughter did not want those grandchildren in that house. I’m glad they’re not in there now.”

Chuck Cox, left, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, shakes hands with one of his attorneys in a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. after a judge granted an injunction to keep Cox's son-in-law, Josh Powell, from publishing portions of Susan Powell's journals.  (Ted S. Warren, AP) Chuck Cox, left, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, shakes hands with one of his attorneys in a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. after a judge granted an injunction to keep Cox's son-in-law, Josh Powell, from publishing portions of Susan Powell's journals. (Ted S. Warren, AP)

In their petition, the Coxes said that according to Josh Powell's sister, Jennifer Graves, Steven Powell was "into pornography, prostitutes, anti-government, anti-social conduct and behaviors. Steven Powell had suggested at one time that Susan could in fact be a 'common wife' to both he and Josh."

As for whether Steven Powell should be considered a person of interest in his daughter's disappearance, Cox said, "I have no idea what to think about Steven Powell right now. I'm going to let police do the police work."

In the petition for custody, Cox also states that Kirk and Jennifer Graves, who live in Utah and are estranged from Josh and Steven Powell, are willing to step in as a third party for custody.

The Coxes also say police have wanted to interview their young grandsons about their mother's disappearance, and have a person who specializes in interviewing young witnesses lined up in Washington should they get custody, court documents state.

Chuck Cox, left, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, walks with attorney Steve Downing, right, as they leave a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing regarding a motion he filed seeking custody of his two grandchildren. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Chuck Cox, left, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, walks with attorney Steve Downing, right, as they leave a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing regarding a motion he filed seeking custody of his two grandchildren. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

The petition regarding custody of the children was filed after a Pierce County judge ruled in another hearing Friday that Susan Powell's childhood diaries will not be published. 

"We do not believe they prove anything about her state of mind as a 28-year-old woman," Chuck Cox said of the diaries.

The judge ruled that not only can the diaries not be released, but any copies previously released to the media or the public should be destroyed.

In court documents related to the diary, Josh Powell wrote that his wife may have committed suicide — something he hadn't previously claimed publicly. He also said he has fully cooperated with police in the investigation into her disappearance. West Valley police, however, have called him a person of interest because they say he has not cooperated with them.

Chuck Cox, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, sits in a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing seeking an injunction to keep his son-in-law, Josh Powell, from publishing portions of Susan Powell's journals. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Chuck Cox, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, sits in a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing seeking an injunction to keep his son-in-law, Josh Powell, from publishing portions of Susan Powell's journals. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

Susan Powell's sister refutes the suicide possibility.

"There's no way she would ever hurt herself," Denise Cox said.

About 12 hours before those court hearings, Steven Powell was arrested at his Puyallup home. The materials used to charge him were collected during a search warrant served on the Powell residence by West Valley police and the Pierce County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 25.

"West Valley police personnel reviewed videotapes and compact discs and found thousands of images of females being videotaped without their knowledge, including Susan Powell," according to a statement from prosecutors. "Many images were of minor females."

Ed Troyer, with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, said Powell used high-tech camera gear to take inappropriate pictures of young girls in his neighborhood taking showers, sitting on toilets in their homes and of young girls in local parks.

Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Powell was attending a hearing regarding a motion for custody of his two children that was filed by his father-in-law, Chuck Cox. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Powell was attending a hearing regarding a motion for custody of his two children that was filed by his father-in-law, Chuck Cox. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

"Basically he's a Peeping Tom with high-tech gear," Troyer said.

Some of the images were of children as young as 8 years old. Prosecutors say some of Steven Powell's digital images were saved onto discs labeled "taking bath" and "open window in back of house."

The 14 counts of voyeurism were based on photographs taken of two young girls, court documents state. The mother of the 8- and 10-year-old girls who were photographed without their consent was contacted after police served a search warrant on Powell's Puyallup home last month.

"Crying, she said that she never thought someone would be watching and photographing her daughters," the Pierce County Attorney's Office wrote.

The girls lived next door to Steven Powell, 61, from June 2006 to August 2007.

Judy Cox, the mother of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, sits in a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing seeking an injunction to keep her son-in-law, Josh Powell, from publishing portions of Susan Powell's journals.  (Ted S. Warren, AP) Judy Cox, the mother of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, sits in a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing seeking an injunction to keep her son-in-law, Josh Powell, from publishing portions of Susan Powell's journals. (Ted S. Warren, AP)

West Valley police said even though the search of Steven Powell's home stemmed from their investigation into the disappearance of his daughter-in-law, "this arrest is not related to the case involving the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell."

After some of the images were discovered by the West Valley officers, they were turned over to the Pierce County Sheriff's Office for further investigation.

According to an affidavit filed in Pierce County Superior Court in Washington, there were folders that also contained many graphic images of Steven Powell himself.

The day after his home was searched, Steven Powell told reporters that many of the pictures and videos taken would be considered "inappropriate for a married woman and her father-in-law" while suggesting that Susan Powell was a willing participant in a flirtatious relationship with him.

Chuck Cox, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, talks to reporters outside a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing regarding a motion he filed seeking custody of his two grandchildren.  (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Chuck Cox, the father of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, talks to reporters outside a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Cox was attending a hearing regarding a motion he filed seeking custody of his two grandchildren. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

Steven Powell also made the comment without going into detail, "I wished I had removed some things from the house so they wouldn't have been taken." He also said that "embarrassing" pictures, videos and journals belonging to him had been seized by police.

Kirsi Hellewell, Susan's best friend, said she was glad Steven Powell was arrested but also shocked at what police found.

"I had no idea. I thought I had seen the depths of what Steve Powell had been to. But I had no idea," she said.

Hellewell said the entire reason Susan wanted to move to Utah was to get away from her father-in-law. She said Susan Powell told her about a time when she caught her father-in-law trying to peek through curtains at her while she was undressing. There was also a time Steve Powell tried to kiss her romantically, Hellewell said.

"I've known for a long time what kind of person Steven Powell is," she said.

Chuck and Judy Cox walk together outside a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. The Coxes are the parents of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, and they were attending court hearings on Friday regarding the publication of Susan Powell's journals and also a hearing regarding the custody of Susan's two children.  (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Chuck and Judy Cox walk together outside a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. The Coxes are the parents of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, and they were attending court hearings on Friday regarding the publication of Susan Powell's journals and also a hearing regarding the custody of Susan's two children. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

There was similar reaction from Graves, Steve Powell's daughter.

"It's not unexpected, I guess," she said of her father's arrest. "I thought for a while he had issues that were pretty big. It's kind of unexpected timing to hear about it, but I'm not surprised."

Graves said she knew her father had a problem with pornography in the past, but she didn't know he was taking his own photographs.

"He's got a pretty sick problem there," Graves said.

Both Graves and Hellewell said they don't know if Steven Powell was involved in Susan's disappearance, but hope that if he was, that his arrest will help the case move forward.

Susan Cox Powell, 28, was last seen on Dec. 6, 2009.

In the past few months, Chuck Cox — who also lives in Puyallup — has been engaged in a heated war of words with Josh and Steven Powell. A court eventually ordered Cox and Josh Powell to stay at least 500 feet away from each other.

Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Powell was attending a hearing regarding a motion for custody of his two children that was filed by his father-in-law, Chuck Cox. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Powell was attending a hearing regarding a motion for custody of his two children that was filed by his father-in-law, Chuck Cox. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

Josh Powell and his two sons moved back to Puyallup in January 2010, about a month after his wife disappeared. He lives in his father's home.

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