By GENE JOHNSON, The Associated Press
TACOMA, Wash. — The children of a Utah woman who's been missing since late 2009 have been placed in the care of her parents.
Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Children's Administration, said Tuesday that the department's legal counsel had confirmed in court that the 4- and 6-year-old sons of Susan and Josh Powell would remain with Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, pending future court orders.
The boys had been living with Josh Powell and his father, Steve, in Puyallup, but the children were taken out of the home last week after Steve was arrested on charges of voyeurism and possessing child pornography. John Long, the assistant attorney general representing the Children's Administration, told a judge Tuesday that Josh Powell is also a subject in that investigation — prompting Josh to quickly deny any such activity.
"I have had nothing to do with any kind of illegal pornography," he said.
Chuck Cox's attorney, Steve Downing, confirmed that the boys were turned over to his clients Tuesday afternoon.
"The Cox family has had a very good and very strong relationship with these children," Downing said. "They had a joyous reunion and that's all I can say."
Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer did not immediately return an email seeking to confirm Long's assertion, but 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.
The boys were placed in foster care after Steve Powell's arrest, but by Tuesday Child Protective Services had turned them over to their maternal grandparents.
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.
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.
Steve Powell 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 judge took the matter under consideration and told the parties to reconvene Wednesday morning. After the hearing, Chuck Cox declined to comment when asked about whether his grandsons were already staying with him.
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, Utah, 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.