Civil trial begins over deaths of Powell children

TACOMA, Wash. – Is Washington state responsible for the deaths of Susan Cox’s two young boys?

That’s the question posed to jurors hearing a case in Pierce County.

Charlie and Braden Powell were killed by their father in a gruesome murder-suicide at their Puyallup home in 2012.

The father, Josh Powell, was also the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance, Susan Cox Powell. Susan has never been found.

Susan’s parents filed suit against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, blaming agents for the boys’ deaths.

The trial has been a long time coming for the Cox family. Opening statements were made Tuesday and they were emotional, the gallery hearing in excruciating detail what happened to the two boys.

At question: did the state do enough to protect the kids, or were their murders solely the fault of their dad?

“I want to introduce you to two boys,” said attorney Ted Buck pointing to a blown-up photo of the children. “This is Braden Powell. That’s his best friend, his brother Charlie.”

The courtroom was filled with everyone waiting to hear opening remarks more than ten years after Susan went missing. Their attorney’s case was clear: the state should be held responsible when caseworkers brought the boys to his father’s Puyallup home that fateful day.

“Delivered the boys to a house where he was able to take the boys away from the supervisor, slammed the door in the supervisor’s face and lock the door,” said Buck.

What happened next was graphic and terrifying; the boys were attacked by their father who then blew up the home, killing himself and his sons.

But state attorneys claim social workers properly followed policies and court orders. Plus, one of the doctors working the case had recently been in contact with Josh.

“Look at the evidence in this case,” said defending attorney Lori Kooiman. “Sift through it and look at it reasonably and logically and not allow it to be clouded by the brutal nature of these murders.”

Cox’s attorneys wonder what could have happened had the state not allowed Josh to see his boys, but the state’s attorney insists it could not deny the boys' father from seeing his kids.

“The department cannot limit a visitation,” said Kooiman. “That’s not within the department’s control. The department cannot use limitation of visitation as a sanction if they’re not happy with the way a parent is acting during a visitation. The only authority to limit visitation is a court.”

The Cox family is asking the jury to award them tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Opening statements ended Tuesday and witness testimony is expected through the rest of this week.