TACOMA – There is a question if state agencies in Washington did enough to protect two children in a murder-suicide solely the fault of their father. Monday, hearings continued in a case against the state Department of Social and Health Services and Child Protective Services at Pierce County Superior Court.
Seven-year-old Charlie Powell and 5-year-old Braden Powell were killed in 2012 by their father, Josh Powell. Josh was also the prime suspect in their mother’s disappearance just before Christmas in 2009. Susan Cox-Powell has never been found.
While police investigated, Powell and the two boys moved to Pierce County. The state later took the children away from their father and put them in the temporary custody of Susan’s parents.
In 2012, the boys were brought to his house for a supervised visit, but Powell locked a Washington state caseworker outside. He then attacked his kids with a hatchet before all three died in an explosive house fire.
“Being struck, having gasoline poured on them into those wounds, swallowing the gasoline and then basically dying from carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Anne Bremner, an attorney representing the Cox family.
The Cox family filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health Services and Child Protective Services. Their attorney said the family believes both agencies didn’t do enough to protect the kids. Bremner mentioned even Powell’s sister, Jennifer Graves, had concerns.
“She warned the agency, CPS, about her brother,” said Bremner.
On Monday, both sides of the court tried to determine how long the two boys were alive during the attack from their father. The court heard from a forensic pathologist who said he believed the children suffered for as many as nine minutes before dying.
“In my opinion, based upon reasonable medical certainty, the boys were more likely conscious than not after having the wounds inflicted,” said Dr. Cryal Wecht, forensic pathologist from Pittsburgh.
Wecht explained his background in forensic pathology to the court, saying he has performed about 21,000 autopsies in his career. He also mentioned he has provided forensic pathology testimony in numerous high-profile cases, including the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the deaths of Elvis Presley, Phil Spector, Jonbenet Ramsey and Michael Jackson.
Wecht further mentioned he has testified in about two to three dozen cases regarding the conscious pain and suffering of a child.
In this case, Wecht said he studied numerous documents, including autopsy and Fire Marshal reports to take a closer look at the timeline of death for the Powell brothers.
“I believe that those injuries occurred first,” said Wecht.
Both sides of the court continued working to determine how long the boys endured conscious pain and suffering before death.
“The question in Washington state—pain and suffering has a value, predeath fear has a value in terms of damages. And so, that’s this witness [Wecht] is important in talking about what these children went through before they died,” said Bremner.
The lawsuit calls for $5 million for each minute the boys were alive during the conscious pain and suffering. Wecht said he considers that timeline from when Powell slammed the door on the state caseworker until the approximate time the children took their last breath.
“I would still say anywhere from one minute up to maybe eight or nine minutes,” said Wecht.
A forensic psychiatrist also took the stand, Monday, on why he believed the state didn’t meet standards regarding supervised visitation. His testimony will continue Tuesday followed by Powell’s sister to address her concerns to the court.
We have reached out to the state again for comment about this case.