Jury to hear civil case in the murders of Susan Cox-Powell’s children

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PIERCE COUNTY -- A mysterious disappearance, murder, suicide, and the search for justice. It's all part of the tragic saga in the case of  Washington native Susan Cox-Powell that continues to unfold over a decade later.

Susan vanished from her Utah home just before Christmas in 2009. Her husband Josh Powell was immediately the prime suspect.

As police investigated Powell, he and Susan's two children moved to Pierce County.

Eventually, Washington state authorities took the children away from Powell and put them in the temporary custody of Susan's parents, but Josh Powell was still allowed visitations. One of those visitations ended in Powell killing his two little boys and himself in 2012.

Monday, jury selection began in a civil case Susan Cox-Powell's parents filed against Washington's Department of Social and Health Services, also known as DSHS. The lawsuit claims the state could have done more to prevent the deaths of their grandchildren.

The civil case is emotional and complex. But much of it boils down to this question: while ultimately a judge ordered that Josh Powell get visitations with his children, could DSHS and CPS have persuaded the judge to not let Powell around his children at all, therefore preventing the murders?

Reading the briefs submitted to the court, it's clear both sides have a very different perspective on how everything unfolded leading up to the murders of Charlie and Braden, and the suicide of their father Josh Powell. But both sides can agree that on that fateful morning, a DSHS employee drove the boys to Josh Powell's home for a supervised visit.

Documents say the boys ran ahead of the supervisor and Josh was able to get them inside before locking the supervisor out. Not longer after, documents say Josh attacked his sons and set the home on fire, killing all three of them.

"This was a preventable death of two beautiful boys, Charlie and Braden, and there were things that could've been done and should have been done by DSHS and CPS to ensure their safety. There were certain red flags that were either ignored or were not responded to in a way that kept those boys as safe as they could've been," says attorney Anne Bremner, who is representing Susan's parents.

Bremner says in this case DSHS failed to give important information to the judge who was presiding over the children's custody placement. But documents filed on the state's behalf say the judge was presented with all the facts, and while Josh Powell was suspected in his wife's disappearance, there was no documented child abuse or neglect that suggested he was a threat to his children.

Attorney Anne Bremner says there were several people who notified DSHS with their concerns that Josh could hurt Charlie and Braden.

Another big issue in dispute between both sides is DSHS's decision to move the visitations with Josh Powell and his sons from a state facility to Josh Powell's home. Documents show the state believes that decision was made appropriately and that the court was informed that the children were now having their visitations at their father's home. The other side disagrees entirely and wants a jury to weigh in.

"We're looking for jurors that have an open mind who will listen to this case and tell us, what really happened here? What's fair? What should we be doing for children in this state? And how should they be protected? Those are all issues and the state is saying these are tough positions, these caseworkers work hard, they have the best of intentions, you know, so that's their side of their case and they're saying what they did was appropriate under the circumstances," says Bremner.

The defendants in this case, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families is being represented by the Washington State Attorney General's Office. We are waiting for a comment from the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. We know one of their big arguments, according to court documents, is that jurors cannot hold the department liable for Josh Powell's intentional actions.

Opening statements in the case are expected to begin within a week.

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