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TACOMA, Wash. — The husband of a missing Utah woman is the subject of a child pornography and voyeurism investigation that has already ensnared his father, a lawyer for the Washington state attorney general said Tuesday.
The comments came during a court hearing in Pierce County Superior Court as the parents of missing Susan Cox Powell sought custody of her children.
"He's a subject of that investigation," said John Long, who represented Child Protective Services at the hearing.
Josh Powell immediately denied any such activity and noted he hasn't been arrested or charged with anything.
"I have had nothing to do with any kind of illegal pornography," he said.
Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told The News Tribune of Tacoma that everyone in Steve Powell's house is a person of interest: "We have not eliminated anybody and we are not at the point of arresting anybody else," Troyer said.
I have had nothing to do with any kind of illegal pornography.
–Josh Powell, speaking to a Washington judge Tuesday
Powell has been living at the home of his father, Steve Powell, in the Tacoma suburb of Puyallup with his two sons, ages 4 and 6, since about a month after his wife disappeared in December 2009.
Authorities said that when they searched the home recently looking for evidence in the disappearance, they found child pornography and other troubling videos in Steve Powell's bedroom.
Steve Powell was arrested last Thursday and 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.
The arrest prompted the state to place the children in temporary foster care, while Susan Powell's parents sought immediate custody of the boys. They wrote in court papers that they believed Josh Powell's arrest in her disappearance was imminent.
In court Tuesday, their attorney, Steve Downing, told the judge that the children were being harmed because they had never received counseling about their mother's disappearance, they might have been exposed to the inappropriate videos and they had been cut off from their maternal grandparents without explanation.
"Those kids may know something, and he sure as the dickens doesn't want them talking to anybody," Downing told Judge Kathryn Nelson.
Those kids may know something, and (Josh Powell) sure as the dickens doesn't want them talking to anybody/
–Steve Downing, Cox family attorney
Powell countered that he's a good, loving father; that the children are not at risk; and that they've never been exposed to porn of any kind. He also made clear that his family would not be posting bail for his father, and that if Steve Powell somehow managed to return home, Josh Powell would take the boys and stay at a hotel.
"There is no clear and present danger to my sons," he said.
The judge took the matter under consideration and told the parties to reconvene Wednesday morning. CPS had until the end of Tuesday to begin dependency proceedings to determine whether it's safe to return the boys to the home. Any such proceeding would immediately put on hold the motion for custody by Susan Powell's parents.
CPS officials, however, said the boys would spend Tuesday night with the Coxes as part of a temporary agreement, according to KING-TV.
Josh Powell frequently came near tears during Tuesday's hearing, breaking up as he described how the boys sat on his lap and hugged him during a visit supervised by CPS on Monday. He also grew emotional as he described the failure of the "general public" to look for his wife: "That, your honor, is deeply hurtful to me."
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.
Authorities wrapped up a 12-day search of the desert Friday about 30 miles from where Josh Powell said he went camping that night. At one point, they said they found a "shallow grave" after cadaver dogs alerted them to the spot. But they found no human remains. Charred wood chips discovered in the hole have been sent to a lab for testing.