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Josh Powell to undergo psychosexual evaluation; 2 boys will remain with grandparents

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 8:53 p.m. MDT

Josh Powell pleads his case during a custody hearing at the Pierce County Superior Courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday September 27, 2011. (, File photo) Josh Powell pleads his case during a custody hearing at the Pierce County Superior Courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday September 27, 2011. (, File photo)

TACOMA, Wash. — A judge on Wednesday ordered Josh Powell to undergo a psychosexual evaluation, which includes a polygraph test.

The order came during a hearing about the custody status of his two young boys.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson also ordered that for now, his children will remain in the custody of his in-laws, the parents of missing Utah mother Susan Cox Powell. She disappeared more than two years ago from her West Valley home.

Wednesday's hearing was the first review hearing since the two young children, ages 4 and 7, were placed with Chuck and Judy Cox last fall. During the hearing, the judge was informed that a doctor who completed a psychological evaluation on Josh Powell said he believes Powell has made improvements in his life.

"There are a lot of positives regarding Mr. Powell," Nelson said, noting that he no longer lived in his father's house and had been cooperative with all the visitation requirements.

Josh and Susan Powell with their two sons. Susan Powell has been missing since December 2009 and police have named Josh Powell as a person of interest in the case. (, Family photo) Josh and Susan Powell with their two sons. Susan Powell has been missing since December 2009 and police have named Josh Powell as a person of interest in the case. (, Family photo)

But the judge recommended that the children remain with their maternal grandparents.

Part of her decision was based on the doctor's recommendation that Powell undergo a psychosexual evaluation because of some images found on one of Powell's computers when West Valley police served a search warrant on his Utah home in 2009.

A psychosexual evaluation looks at whether a person is a risk to commit sexual misconduct in the future. The evaluation is based on several factors, including sexual history and family history. Prosecutors said a lie detector test will be part of the evaluation.

Attorneys said the images are part of an ongoing criminal investigation in Utah. No one in court described what the images contained, partly because no one in the courtroom Wednesday had apparently seen them.

Jeff Bassett, Powell's attorney, questioned the validity of the images and noted there wasn't any concrete proof that  they even belonged to his client.

"Utah has some disc with some allegedly questionable images on it," he said.

Bassett accused Utah investigators of "playing puppet master with the state of Washington" by dangling an alleged piece of evidence in front of the court to keep Powell's children away from him, even though no one had seen such evidence.

"Why haven't they arrested my client? It certainly would be an extraditable offense," he said of the disputed images.

Later, Bassett conceded the images might be in "bad taste," but said he does not believe they are illegal.

John Long, with the Washington Attorney General's Office, admitted that the issue of the evidence in Utah is "frustrating for all of us." But he said the recommendation for the psychosexual evaluation isn't without merit.

"It's not a fishing expedition. This is based on some information that has been provided by a criminal investigation," he said, noting it was "clear" the images could be linked to Josh Powell.

"We need to look at this as a whole, not one piece of this," he said.

Nelson agreed with the prosecutor, noting that the child dependency case started with child pornography allegations against Steven Powell, Josh's father. She said it would be best to cover all bases and have Josh Powell undergo an evaluation in light of the new evidence.

"I see no reason to disturb the current placement that is going so well for these children," the judge said.

West Valley police released a statement Wednesday saying its officers are aware of the custody dispute in Washington. Detectives investigating Susan Powell's disappearance "discovered information specifically related to their children's welfare. This information was provided to authorities in the state of Washington."

Meanwhile, Julio Serrano, the guardian ad litem in the case, said he noticed improvement in the two boys since the last time he met with them.

"The children are doing very well in the Cox home," he said. "My recommendation is to remain in that environment."

Powell's attorney, however, spoke about two incidents of one of the boys being hurt and expressed concerns about their safety in the Cox home.

In one case, Branden Powell suffered second-degree burns on his foot after accidentally knocking over a pot of water that had just been boiled for a home reconstruction project. He was also knocked down while playing with other boys and underwent a CAT scan.

Both incidents were investigated and determined to be accidents.

Bassett argued the Coxes should have been more careful. "They (the boys) shouldn't be anywhere near a part of the house that's under construction," he argued.

The Coxes have been fighting for custody of their grandchildren, arguing that they believe their son-in-law is responsible for the disappearance of their daughter. Police consider Josh Powell a person of interest in his wife's disappearance because they say he has been uncooperative in their investigation.

Powell's father, Steven Powell, has pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of voyeurism and one of possession of child pornography. He remains jailed on $200,000 bail. Prosecutors said that for at least a decade, he had been secretly filming women, including Susan Powell, and that he shot footage of two young neighbor girls as they took baths and sat on the toilet.

Josh Powell will continue to have two three-hour supervised visits with his boys each week. Another dependence hearing was scheduled for July 26. The court reaffirmed Wednesday that its ultimate goal is to reunite Powell with his children.

Josh Powell has said he took his boys, then 2 and 4, on a late night camping trip in freezing temperatures the day his wife disappeared from their West Valley City home in December of 2009.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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