Charlie and Braden Powell inspire Wash. legislation

SALT LAKE CITY – Lawmakers in Washington State are considering a new law a year after Josh Powell killed himself and his two sons. The law, named after Charlie and Braden, would restrict contact between children and parents if the parent is a suspect in a murder investigation.

Josh Powell was the sole person of interest in the Dec. 2009 disappearance of his wife Susan. He maintained his innocence in the case, claiming that Susan ran off.

In fall 2011, Josh lost custody of his two sons after his father Steven Powell was arrested for possession of child pornography. The boys were placed in the custody of their maternal grandparents Chuck and Judy Cox, but Josh had visitation rights.

A year ago Friday, a Pierce County, Wash., judge ordered Josh Powell to undergo a psychosexual evaluation, which would have included a polygraph test, but didn’t restrict his visits with his two sons.

Four days later, Josh killed himself and both Charlie and Braden shortly after they arrived at his Puyallup, Wash., house for a supervised visit. When they arrived with a social worker, Josh grabbed them, pulled them into the house and locked the doors. Police say Josh then killed the boys with a hatchet before blowing up his house, killing himself.

“For some reason in the case of Josh Powell and his two sons, he was on a fast-track two visits a week to be in his home,” said Washington Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

Sen. Roach is sponsoring a bill that would restrict visitation of children with parents who are under investigation in connection with a murder.

“Current laws allowed him to blatantly obstruct the investigation while enjoying full and unchallenged custody,” Chuck Cox said. “If this law had been enforced it may have very well prevented the death of Charlie and Braden.”

But opponents worry about the impact of the legislation on families when the parent in question is actually innocent.

“How do we define active murder investigation? For example, some investigation will take years and ultimately a person can be exonerated or the investigation doesn’t prove anything,” said Rick Bartholomew of the Washington State Bar Association.

They also worry that the bill could compromise police investigations by revealing a suspect before law enforcement are ready to do so.

If the bill passes, a judge would be able to restrict contact, allowing visitation in public places instead of the parent’s home.

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