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Steven Powell sentenced to 30 months for voyeurism

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TACOMA. Wash. — Steven Powell was sentenced Friday to serve 30 months in custody and three years of probation.

"I know some people want Mr. Powell to rot in prison for the rest of his life," Judge Ronald Culpepper said. "But I don't think that's appropriate."

The judge said he cannot hold Powell accountable for the disappearance of his daughter-in-law, Susan Cox Powell, and wanted to be careful not to sentence him because of the notoriety of the case. "As far as I know, there's nothing to indicate he was involved."

Powell was also given credit for the 267 days he has already served, meaning he likely will serve about 21 months.

Powell showed no emotion as the sentence was announced.

"There's something seriously wrong of Mr. Powell's view of women in the world," the judge said.

Victims' mother speaks

Calling him a "disgusting neighbor," the mother of the two girls whom Powell took photographs of strongly chastised the man.

While I didn't know you were watching my girls, I do know that somebody was watching you. And you better pray that he forgives you, because I can't.

–victims' mother

"I have yet to hear you apologize. You've sat there smugly as if it's perfectly normal to commit your crimes," she said to Powell. "Shame on you! Shame on you for not admitting what you did was wrong, and for not admitting it at all."

She said her daughters "have to carry this forever."

"They did nothing to you, but you've stolen their sense of security," the woman said.

"And while I didn't know you were watching my girls, I do know that somebody was watching you. And you better pray that he forgives you, because I can't."

Powell declined to address the judge or the mother Friday.

Some charges dismissed

Before the sentence was issued, Culpepper dismissed two of the 14 voyeurism charges against Powell.

Defense attorneys argued that many of the voyeurism charges could have stemmed from the same photo session and said Powell was convicted of multiple crimes that actually came from a single crime.

Judge Ronald Culpepper reviews photographs during a sentencing hearing for Steve Powell who was convicted on 14 felony counts of voyeurism in the Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Washington on June 15, 2012. (Kim Raff, The Salt Lake Tribune)
Judge Ronald Culpepper reviews photographs during a sentencing hearing for Steve Powell who was convicted on 14 felony counts of voyeurism in the Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Washington on June 15, 2012. (Kim Raff, The Salt Lake Tribune)

"(These photos) could have all been taken on one day," attorney Travis Currie said.

But prosecutor Grant Blinn argued that even though investigators can't say specifically when all of the many photographs were taken, he believes most were from separate videotaped sequences and warranted separate criminal charges.

The judge and attorneys reviewed photographs taken of the two victims Friday, analyzing similar items seen in the background.

"These look to me very much like they are taken right about the same time," Culpepper said, referring to two photos that appear to depict the same clothing, a pillow and a dog.

Blinn agreed and motioned to have one of the 14 counts of voyeurism against Powell dismissed.

The photos seized by police had been labeled "Taking bath-1," "Taking bath-2" and "open window in back house." Culpepper wondered if that was evidence that the photos came during separate sessions, assuming Powell wrote those labels.

The judge also analyzed the position of a water glass in other photos, trying to determine what that indicated. Culpepper also asked attorneys if it mattered now since the jury returned 14 guilty verdicts.

"They didn't decide whether these were separate counts," Currie replied.

But the judge seemed uncertain whether he should be second-guessing by reviewing these photos from the bench. 'You want me to decide based on fuzzy pictures," the judge said.

Sentencing of Steven Powell

Yet after some discussion, Culpepper agreed to dismiss a second count because two other photos appear to have been taken at the same time. That meant he would sentence Powell for 12 counts of voyeurism.

Arguments over the the sentence

Defense attorneys pushed for a one-year sentence or less for Powell. With credit for time served and good behavior while in custody, such a sentence may have meant Powell could have been released immediately.

But prosecutors asked the judge to issue a 10-year sentence because they felt the case warranted an "exceptional sentence aggravator" that justified the departure from the guideline recommendations for an offender like Powell. The guideline recommendations called for 43 to 57 months in prison.

But despite that guideline, the Department of Corrections sided with prosecutors and recommended a stiffer 10-year sentence, citing "aggravating circumstances."

Defense attorney Mark Quigley argued Friday that a 10- year sentence was too harsh because it is on par with a sentence for a child rape or a second-degree murder conviction and reminded the judge that Powell, 62, has no criminal history.

"These girls were never physically harmed, physically touched," Quigley said of the victims.

"I would ask you not to punish Mr. Powell for the crimes of his son," the attorney added, referring to Josh Powell.


Culpepper also asked prosecutors if they were aware of anyone receiving a 10-year sentence for voyeurism.

But Blinn said Powell has never shown remorse, never taken responsibility or acknowledged he did something wrong. The two victims in the case will always worry about whether those photos will resurface. Two consecutive 60- month sentences seem "just" and "fair," Blinn said.

The pre-sentence report

Officer Joe Sofia, who authored a pre-sentence report, pointed to the ongoing filming and photographing of the same two young neighbor girls repeatedly and Powell's "extremely high offender score."

The pre-sentence report also referred to diary entries of Powell relating to his daughter-in-law — missing West Valley City woman Susan Cox Powell. In the entries, Powell repeatedly wrote about his love for Susan and desire to marry her, Sofia wrote.

Also detailed was Powell's penchant for randomly filming or photographing women and girls, primarily focusing on intimate areas. This behavior came to light in the course of an investigation into Susan Powell's disappearance.

Police served a search warrant on Steven Powell's Puyallup, Wash., home and seized thousands of photographs of women and girls.

Among them were numerous pictures of two young girls who were Powell's neighbors starting in 2006. He videotaped and photographed them from his house — just 40 to 50 feet away — by looking into their bathroom through an open door. Most of the photos showed the girls, then 8 and 10 years old, in the nude. They are now 13 and 15.

The girls testified at Steven Powell's trial and said they never gave anyone permission to take pictures of them. Powell has remained silent since charges were filed.

The sentencing was the latest in a long line of events spurred by Susan Powell's disappearance. The 28-year-old mother of two has been missing since Dec. 6, 2009. The night before she was reported missing, Josh Powell, Steven Powell's son, said he took their two young children camping in single-digit temperatures in a remote part of Tooele County in the middle of the night. When he returned a day and a half later, he said his wife was gone.

Josh Powell was named a person of interest in the case, but was never arrested. He moved into his father's Puyallup home soon after his wife disappeared and lived there until Steven Powell's arrest, when his two sons Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, were removed from his care and placed with their maternal grandparents.

As part of an ongoing custody battle, Josh Powell rented his own home in Graham, Wash. It was there where that he killed himself and his two sons on Feb. 5 after setting fire to the home.


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