TACOMA, Wash. — A judge's decision Tuesday was a victory for the parents of Susan Cox Powell.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper ruled that evidence collected during a search of Steven Powell's house in August by police will be admissible during his upcoming trial.
But maybe just as important for the Cox family was hearing a judge say for the first time that there was enough evidence to reasonably believe Josh Powell was responsible for the disappearance of his wife.
"It's a relief to actually hear him say it in court," said Chuck Cox, Susan Powell's father.
In issuing his decision, Culpepper said, "I think these facts offer a very reasonable inference, something that would warrant a person of reasonable caution in finding probable cause in believing Joshua Powell, the subject of the investigation, was involved in the disappearance and very likely the death of Susan Powell."
Culpepper said there was probable cause for West Valley police to seek Susan Powell's diaries, which were being kept in Josh and Steven Powell's Puyallup, Wash., house, as well as probable cause to obtain all of the digital media in the home that led to the discovery of thousands of photographs of young children, many nude or partially nude, allegedly taken by Steven Powell.
Steven Powell, 62, has been in jail since his arrest in September on charges of 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of materials of minors engaged in explicit conduct. His trial is scheduled to begin May 7. A scheduling hearing was set for Friday to confirm the trial date, which should last about a week.
Culpepper noted that in making his ruling, he wasn't making any judgment or commentary about how the West Valley Police Department has handled its investigation.
"I do not suggest what West Valley police should or could have done in this place," he said. "It appears they did a fairly through investigation."
But outside the courtroom, Cox family attorney Anne Bremner — while noting that hindsight is 20-20 — questioned whether Josh Powell should have been arrested based on what police knew.
"(The judge) is not looking at what they did or didn't do, he's not second-guessing what they did or didn't do and we're hopeful they'll continue with the investigation as they said they're doing."
Alina Powell, Steven Powell's daughter, took notes while listening to the proceedings. She did not agree with the judge's decision, but said based on how the affidavit was written, it's what she expected.
"I empathize with his decision because he has to base it only on the four corners of the affidavit, I understand that. However, there is exculpatory evidence that was not put into the affidavit so I absolutely disagree with the overall concept on that point," she said.
For example, she said the affidavit indicates that Charlie Powell had said that his mother was dead. What it didn't say was that Charlie also said his younger brother Braden was dead.
Alina Powell did not have any predictions about how her father's trial would go. But she said she doubts he can receive a fair trial.
Chuck Cox also said he disagreed with the judge's statement that there did not seem to be any "criminally obstructive behavior" on the part of the Powells as outlined in the search warrant affidavit.
"I disagree with the idea they have not tried to obstruct. I think their alternative theory was nothing but an attempt to obstruct the investigation. But, regardless, they didn't get away with it," he said.
In explaining her disappearance, Steven and Josh Powell had publicly presented a theory that Susan Powell was flirtatious with other men and may have run off with someone else.
Cox believes that Steven Powell has information about what happened to his daughter. When asked whether he would be open to a plea deal if it meant Powell revealing information about where Susan's body was, Cox said maybe.
"We think the police are going to find where Susan is. And we think it's important to keep Steve off the streets. We think it's important for the public safety and if it meant him going free, then absolutely not. If it mean some type of reduction that would still require a significant prison stay for him, then possibly," he said.
Bremner called Tuesday's ruling very important. If the judge had ruled in favor of the defense, "I think (Steven Powell) would have walked out today potentially," she said.
Both sides will now prepare for a trial, which will potentially include witnesses from the West Valley Police Department who served the warrant on the Powell house, and Jennifer Graves, Steven Powell's estranged daughter who lives in Utah.
"We're prepared for anything," Cox said. "We've known Steve has issues. I'm not really surprised about things he has done. I'm surprised about the depth of it. I didn't realize there was the voyeurism and all those issues. … Everyone who's talked about him has used the word 'creepy,' so there's always been a negative feeling around him, and we'll deal with whatever comes up."
"Prayers answered today!" Kiirsii Hellewell said on Twitter following the judge's announcement Tuesday. Hellewell was a close friend of Susan Powell and has been following the case closely. "Steven Powell will not be back out on the street anytime soon to victimize other innocent girls and women!"
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company