This editorial appears in Tuesday’s print edition.
Hindsight is 20/20. Even so, one can’t help but think that Utah police mishandled the case of the 2009 disappearance – and presumed murder – of Susan Powell.
Newly public documents detailing what West Valley City police knew about the case from almost the beginning look to untrained eyes like evidence that points directly to Susan’s husband, Josh Powell, as responsible for her death. The trained eyes of Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and former King County prosecutor Anne Bremner agree.
“Based on the facts we now know, we would have charged Josh Powell with Susan Powell’s murder if it occurred in Pierce County,” Lindquist said. And Bremner said, “ There was compelling evidence he killed her. I prosecuted cases on far less than that and won them.” She currently represents the parents of Susan Powell.
But Utah authorities never acted on that compelling evidence, and Powell was free to move to Washington state where he horrifically murdered his two young sons and killed himself Feb. 5.
Among the findings that investigators had turned up shortly after Susan’s disappearance: her blood on the floor in the Powell home near a couch that had been recently cleaned and a letter she hid in a safe deposit box in which she wrote of her fear that Josh might kill her.
That, coupled with other suspicious information and Josh’s odd late-night “camping trip” with his sons on the night Susan disappeared, adds up to what seems like a strong circumstantial case.
But not to Utah authorities, who despite knowing the finale to the Powell family tragedy, say they are still treating Susan’s disappearance as a “missing-person case.”
It’s very possible that had Utah prosecutors moved more aggressively on Josh Powell and made it clearer that he was, indeed, their prime suspect in Susan’s disappearance, that he might not have been given as much access to his children as he had.
He still might have found a way to kill Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5. But maybe not. Even 20/20 hindsight is not that clear.