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Missing Utah mom’s father-in-law pleads not guilty

  • AP
    Josh Powell
    Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Powell was attending a hearing regarding a motion for custody of his two children that was filed by his father-in-law, Chuck Cox. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
    FILE - Approximately two dozen law enforcement office officers from the West Valley City Utah Police Department and Pierce County Sheriff's Department investigate the home of Josh Powell, husband of missing Utah mom Susan Powell, and his father Steve Powell in Puyallup, Wash., in this Aug. 25, 2011 file photo. West Valley Police who reviewed the videotapes and compact discs found "found thousands of images of females being videotaped without their knowledge, including Susan Powell. The father-in-law of a missing Utah woman was charged with voyeurism and possession of child pornography and arrested Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 Pierce County authorities said. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Dean J. Koepfler, File)
    In this Aug. 19, 2011, photo, Steven Powell, the father-in-law of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, talks in Puyallup, Wash., about the search for Susan Powell. Steven Powell was charged with voyeurism and possession of child pornography and arrested Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, Pierce County (Wash.) authorities said. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Rick Egan)
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TACOMA, Wash. >> The father-in-law of a missing Utah woman pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of possessing child pornography and secretly videotaping her, other women and young girls without their knowledge.

Wearing an orange jailhouse jumpsuit and with his hands cuffed, Steven Powell, 61, entered the pleas in court in Washington state, and the judge set bail at $200,000.

Powell’s arrest on Thursday at his home immediately set off another court battle, with Susan Powell’s father asking another judge on Friday for custody of her two sons.

The boys, ages 4 and 6, had been living at their grandfather’s home with their father, Josh Powell, the only named person of interest in her 2009 disappearance. No charges have been filed against him.

The judge at Powell’s arraignment ordered him not to have contact with his grandsons. A lawyer for the state attorney general said earlier that the boys had been placed in foster care since the arrest.

After the hearing, Denise Cox, Susan Powell’s older sister, said she was worried that Steven Powell would easily post bail. She said she believes that both son and father were involved in the disappearance.

"I’m just hoping for the day that hopefully Josh will join him," she said.

"It’s been a long wait and it gets harder every day," she said, as she cried spoke in front of a throng of reporters and television news cameras.

A court commissioner said Friday that he will not decide on the custody of the sons until after the state’s child welfare agency finishes its investigation. Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

"We’re very concerned for the welfare of our grandchildren. We’re doing everything we can," said Chuck Cox, Susan Powell’s father, after the custody hearing.

The arrest — and the child custody motion — are the latest twists in a case that has perplexed Utah police, who are on their 12th day of searching a remote stretch of desert near where Josh Powell says he went camping the night his wife vanished.

Prosecutor Mark Lindquist in Washington state said Steven Powell is charged with 14 felony counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of child pornography.

Lindquist said Utah police investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance found "thousands of images of females being videotaped without their knowledge, including Susan Powell," on tapes and disks at his home in an Aug. 25 search.

The videos were found in Steven Powell’s bedroom. "The photographer focuses on the women’s buttocks, breasts," Lindquist said in a statement. "Many images were of minor females."

The images included shots of two girls who were as young as 8 and 10 years old at the time, the prosecutor said. Authorities determined that the girls lived near Steven Powell from June 2006 to August 2007.

At Powell’s arraignment, prosecutor Grant Blinn said detectives are still going through the seized items, but so far have found more than 1,000 video files. He said it appeared he had been secretly videotaping girls or women for at least 10 years.

The arrest prompted a Cox family lawyer to directly accuse Josh — for the first time publicly — of involvement in his wife’s disappearance.

"The time has come where we have to stop playing cat and mouse games: Josh Powell had something to do with the disappearance of the mother of these children," attorney Steve Downing told the court commissioner on Friday.

Powell responded: "Everything they said is patently false. I am a good father to my sons."

Before the hearing, he sat in the back row of the small courtroom wearing a blue jacket, jeans, white sneakers with the treads worn off — and his wedding ring.

Powell flipped through a thick stack of legal documents and told an Associated Press reporter "no" when asked if he had anything to say about his dad’s arrest. He ignored several other questions.

Susan Powell’s father called the allegations against Steven Powell disgusting. "It very clearly shows her concerns were just about Steven Powell," Chuck Cox said.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, West Valley City, Utah police, who are investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance, said Steven Powell’s arrest was not related to the missing person case.

They have said Josh Powell has been uncooperative in their investigation.

Josh Powell claims he took the couple’s two sons — then ages 4 and 2 — on a midnight camping trip in the mountains west of Salt Lake City on Dec. 6, 2009, the night before she was reported missing.

Also Friday, a Washington state judge issued a permanent injunction barring Josh Powell and his father from further publishing journal pages Susan Powell wrote as a teenager.

The Powells claimed the journal entries depicted a troubled woman, but Susan’s family has been fighting their release, saying they were the personal writings of a young girl and had no bearing on her disappearance.

Authorities planned to wrap up their 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.

The search of the Powells home in Puyallup, Wash., last month came after police wrapped up a search for evidence in a network of abandoned mines outside Ely, Nev.

Around that time in August, Josh Powell and his father went on national television to discuss the case. They claimed Susan Powell was promiscuous, emotionally unstable and suicidal, a claim her family denies.

Steven Powell said he had a flirtatious relationship with his daughter-in-law and believed they were in love.

"Susan was very sexual with me," Steve Powell told ABC’s Good Morning America. "We interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that."

Cox, Susan’s father, denied the allegations, and said it was Steven Powell who initiated unwanted sexual advances.

Josh Powell has denied killing his wife or having anything to do with her disappearance. "I would never even hurt her," a tearful, red-eyed Josh Powell told CBS’ Early Show in August.

Josh and his father have said they believe Susan Powell ran off with another man.

"I’m still thinking she left," Steven Powell told The Associated Press in August. "Hopefully they’ll be able to find her at some point. … We don’t believe she’s dead."

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