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Did the Judicial System Fail Susan Powell’s Boys?

by Leon Bennett on 02/08/12

By now we have all heard the horrendous news. Brothers Charlie and Braden Powell, sons of missing Utah mother Susan Powell, were killed Sunday in a gasoline-fueled fire and explosion at the home of their father, Josh. The double murder – suicide was premeditated by Josh and occurred during court ordered supervised visitation. How could this have happened? Is the judicial system to blame for this tragedy?

Josh Powell was the only “person of interest” in the disappearance of wife. He lost custody of his sons this past fall when his father Steven, with whom Josh and the boys had been living, was arrested on charges of child pornography and voyeurism. And just last week a judge denied Powell’s request to regain custody of his sons. On the surface, it appears that the judicial system had stepped in to insure the boys’ safety. But could the system have done more?

After the tragedy, it was reported by a lawyer for Susan Powell’s family that the boys had begun to reveal the events of the night of Susan’s disappearance, stating their mother was in the trunk of the family’s car when they went camping that night.  The younger boy also stated that his mom and dad got out of the car and his mother “got lost”. Such revelations surely would have had dire consequences for Josh Powell. It would seem to be a reasonable assumption that with this information, Josh may have been on the brink of being charged with the murder of his wife. And with his bid at regaining custody of his sons denied, he was a man being boxed into a corner. Desperate people do desperate things.

While I applaud the judge for ordering supervised visitation, I believe things should have been taken a step further. The visitation should have been monitored by law enforcement, and in a public place, not by a Child Protective Services employee at Powell’s home. If a parent is evaluated to need supervised visitation, there must be a reasonable doubt as to their stability and ability to care for and/or protect their children. This would seem particularly true if the parent is a “person of interest” in the disappearance of the other parent. At the very least, visitation should have occurred at a neutral, public place where Josh did not have control of the environment. But the best situation would have been visitation at a secured, monitored facility. Such facilities have security screenings, such as metal detectors, and security personnel to help insure all parties are in a safe environment.

Don’t get me wrong – the ONLY person responsible for this tragedy is Josh Powell. However, one of the main responsibilities of the judicial system is to protect the innocent and vulnerable. I think it is obvious to all; the system failed those two beautiful little boys.

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