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Steven Powell: A case study in family destruction

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on May 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm with No Comments »
May 17, 2012 5:11 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Steven Powell’s conviction on 14 counts of voyeurism Wednesday should give police plenty of time – as he sits in prison – to explore his possible involvement in the disappearance of his daughter-in-law, Susan Powell.

His role in the corruption of her husband, who burned their two sons to death in February, is already obvious.

Josh Powell had a penchant for pornography and a tendency to demean and menace his wife, as Susan’s emails and other surviving documents have made clear. His murder of the two young boys doesn’t prove that he killed their mother, but it does prove that he was capable of worse. At the very least, one could say that Josh was not a paragon of respect for women.

Like father, like son.

Steven Powell and his unfortunate wife divorced in 1994. The court documents from that divorce reveal a pattern of abuse and avid pornography consumption that was replicated in their son’s home.

A Feb. 10 story in the Salt Lake Tribune summed up the cross-generational contagion:

“Long before Josh Powell killed himself and his 7- and 5-year-old sons in a fire on Sunday, the pages of his parents’ divorce file portrayed him as a seriously troubled teen who attempted suicide, killed pet gerbils, once threatened his mother with a butcher knife and early on adopted his father’s allegedly disparaging view of women.”

Had Josh Powell grown up in another home, he might have become a very different man. His father’s parenting style doesn’t excuse his crimes, but it does help explain them.

Steven – whose influence over his son remained strong until the end – eventually graduated from pornography user to pornography producer. He surreptitiously photographed females – including Susan and young girls – while they were fully or partially unclothed. Hundreds of such images were found in his computer files.

Josh, too, acquired the habit of photographing people unawares, according to a social worker who interviewed him last fall, though it’s not clear whether he took it as far as his father.

Steven’s conviction this week should land him in prison for four years or more. If he had no connection to one of the most infamous crimes in memory, the salacious secret photography itself would more than justify the penalty.

But Steve is far more than a common voyeur; his sense of sexual entitlement and contempt for women contributed to homicides in two generations of Powells. It is a testament to how much ruin one man can visit on his own family.

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