Live coverage: Steven Powell trial in Tacoma
TACOMA, Wash. — The jury in the Steven Powell voyeurism trial will not hear about Powell's bizarre obsession with his daughter-in-law in his own words.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper ruled that seven of the eight passages from Powell's diaries that prosecutors had hoped to admit as evidence will not be permitted. In all seven passages, Powell talks about his obsession with Susan Powell, writing passages such as "Susan likes to be admired and I'm a voyeur," and "I'm a voyeur and Susan is an exhibitionist."
Culpepper ruled that although the passages are "strange" and "disturbing," they are not relevant to the charges at hand, and the mention of the missing West Valley City mother could be more prejudicial than having any evidentiary value.
A visibly upset Denise Cox, Susan's sister, left the courtroom in a hurry after the decision was made and she refused to talk to reporters.
Earlier in the day, before Culpepper made his ruling, Cox said she would "not be a happy person at all" if that was the way he ruled.
"He might as well just toss out of the case if he's not going to talk about the journals and talk about the porn. It's supposed to be an actual case and it's not fair if you're not allowing a lot of the evidence in," she said.
The one diary passage that Culpepper will allow was from 2004 when Steven Powell wrote that "likes taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts, beautiful women of every age."
Culpepper said he would mull over another journal entry that he temporarily denied. In it, Powell wrote, "I've been going nuts and nearly out of control sexually my entire life." That sentence was written between more paragraphs obsessing over his daughter-in-law, the defense noted. It was also written in 2010 after Susan had gone missing.
Powell's defense team had filed a memorandum successfully arguing that the diaries only proved he had an obsession with Susan Powell.
"The entries are too remote in time and are ultimately of little relevance, are more prejudicial than probative, and therefore are inadmissible," the attorneys argued.
Susan Powell, they reminded the judge, is not the alleged victim in the case.
"The fact that a defendant has committed a crime or other bad acts does not mean that his character is so wedded to crime that he is likely to have committed the crime presently charged," defense attorneys wrote. “The fact that these journals refer to Susan Powell make them clearly and overwhelmingly more prejudicial than probative given the extreme amount of publicity that has surrounded her disappearance and the subsequent investigation of Josh Powell, his death and the death of his sons."
On Wednesday, Culpepper is expected to rule on images that the prosecution wants to present as evidence to show the jury that Powell engaged in a pattern of taking voyeuristic photos for his own sexual gratification. After that ruling, opening arguments are expected to get under way with the first witness expected to be the mother of the two young girls Powell is accused of photographing without their knowledge.
Powell is charged with 14 counts of voyeurism for allegedly taking pictures of two former neighbor girls, then ages 8 and 10, a couple of years ago while they were undressed or partially undressed and in their own bathroom.
After a two-day selection process, a 12 member jury — six men and six women — was chosen with two alternates. The majority of jurors appear to be in their 40s or 50s.
Potential jurors were grilled about how much they had already heard about the case. Some admitted it was nearly impossible to avoid hearing a headline or something about the case on Monday. They all admitted they quickly turned the channel or looked away when they saw that the coverage was about Powell.
One prospective juror said he had never heard about Steven Powell, or Josh and Susan Powell, because he traveled a lot and generally did not read newspapers or watch the news.
Rather than allow prosecutors to present dozens and dozens of photos to jurors, the judge said they had to limit their selections to 20. When court resumes Wednesday, Powell's attorneys will challenge allowing even those 20 photographs to be admitted as evidence.
In their memorandum, they argued that the majority of the photos are not relevant to the case. They also referred to adult commercial pornography, arguing, "Constitutionally protected behavior cannot be the basis of criminal punishment."
Defense attorneys also noted the photos include some of Steven Powell "in various states of undress and involved in sexual acts or pantomiming sexual acts."
New court documents filed by prosecutors Tuesday describe in sometimes graphic and disturbing detail what police found on the digital recordings in Steven Powell's home. Several of the videos also focus on Susan Powell or Steven Powell talking about Susan.
In one video, Steven Powell talks about being in love with his daughter-in-law and says he "would give anything to be with her." In another video, he takes a pair of Susan's underwear from the laundry room and kisses it. In another, he talks about "having the most erotic experience of my life" giving her a foot rub. The documents describe other much more explicit videos.
Although the trial is specific to photographs of two young neighbor girls, Denise Cox insists that her sister is a victim, too, and evidence about her should be permitted.
"Everyone deserves a fair trial … but no one's been fair to my family in everything that's gone on. You know, they followed the rules and look where the rules got them — two nephews that are gone, my sister's gone. The rules have failed for the most part," she said. "It has everything to do with the trial. Susan is a victim. He talks about her and she's in one of the pictures. She's part of the case. She's part of both cases and they're linked."
Her parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, did not attend Tuesday's proceedings but were expected to be in court on Wednesday.
For the Cox family, finding time to heal since the murders of their two grandsons, Charlie and Braden, hasn't been easy. But getting rid of his grandsons' beds was a simple decision for Chuck Cox.
It was far too painful to walk into the boys' room — an addition that had just been completed three days before the brothers were killed — and see the two beds sitting empty. One bed had been covered with the pillow sheets from the Disney movie "Cars." The other had a Spiderman-themed bedspread.
It's been three months since Josh Powell killed his two young sons, Charlie and Braden, and took his own life in an inferno at his rental Graham, Wash., house. Chuck and Judy Cox have continued to remodel their home and are about 95 percent finished. Monday night, they showed the Deseret News the room that used to belong to Charlie and Braden, which has now been turned into a master bedroom and lounge area.
Most of the boys' toys have been donated to local charities. A couple of plastic bins hold the remaining arts and crafts supplies that their grandsons once used. The couple says maybe someday they'll want to go back and look at the items that remind them of the boys. But right now, it's too painful.
Even now, the Coxes occasionally find a toy that was left under a couch or in a corner by Charlie and Braden, and the tears will flow. A recently-found nightlight that the boys used each night to go to sleep left Chuck Cox unable to move for 15 minutes, he said.
Although many weeks have passed, he said the family has not had time to properly mourn.
"We haven't had the luxury of grieving," Chuck Cox said. "At some point we can heal with our grief."
While the family has mostly gotten over the shock of what happened to the young boys, other ongoing issues, including Steven Powell's trial, have prevented them from fully having time to recover.
Steven Powell's daughter, Alina Powell, was again present for Tuesday's proceedings. She sat in the back of the courtroom taking notes. Powell looked at his daughter and smiled to her a couple of times shortly after he was brought into the courtroom and as he was being led away.
But seeing Powell in the courtroom has been difficult for Denise Cox. "It just makes me want to go up to him and say, 'Where is (Susan)? You know, then I'll leave you alone,'" she said.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company