Verdict appealed over murder of Susan Cox Powell’s children

Oct 19, 2022, 6:05 PM


A photo of the lawsuit filed by the family of Susan Powell. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In March 2020, Chuck Cox told a Pierce County jury he recalled running up to a firefighter at the site of his son-in-law Josh Powell’s Graham home shortly after it went up in a fiery explosion, set by Powell.

“I asked him if the boys were in there. And he said, yes,” a tearful Cox testified.

The boys he was referring to were his two young grandsons, Charlie (7) and Braden (5). They were his daughter Susan’s children with Powell, who Cox long believed to be behind his daughter’s 2009 disappearance in West Valley, Utah, where they shared a home.

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That belief, and the many other facts that came to light from Josh Powell’s past, as well as Powell’s own father’s arrest on voyeurism charges, were just a few of the reasons Cox and his wife Judy fought hard to keep the boys away from their father.

Chuck and Judy Cox believed Powell was a threat to his grandsons. They were right.

On that fateful Super Bowl Sunday in 2012, Josh Powell was to have a supervised visit with his sons – a supervised visit the Cox’s had repeatedly warned against to no avail.

When the social worker, contracted by the state’s then-Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), went to drop the boys off, Powell grabbed his sons and locked the social worker outside.

What happened inside over the next 22 minutes was horrific.

Josh Powell would take a hatchet to his sons in a brutal attack before dousing his home in accelerant and lighting it on fire – both boys still conscious.

The Cox’s filed a wrongful death lawsuit against DSHS.

When Chuck Cox got to the home engulfed in flames that day, the firefighter confirmed the boys had been inside. Cox told the jury in 2020 that he remembered thinking he tried so hard to keep them safe.

“I tried to do everything. I did everything I was asked and more so, and I told everyone I could tell my fears and the danger and still, here I am looking, looking at this building and powerless to save the boys,” Cox recalled at the long-delayed trial.

Jurors in 2020 also heard graphic testimony of what the boys endured on that final day which led the jury to award the Cox’s – on behalf of the boy’s estate – $115 million. The majority of that, $98 million, was specifically in damages for the pain, suffering, fear, and anxiety each of the boys suffered that day.

It was a win for Cox, who never cared about the financial victory with the exception of wanting it to be significant enough to shock the state into changing the way it handles the safety of kids under its care in similar situations.

But a short time later, a judge sharply reduced the financial settlement, citing among other reasons, that the graphic details of the boys’ killings had led the jury to issue an award based on emotion. The award was cut by two-thirds to about $33 million.

Now, the state is appealing to have the entire award tossed and is asking for a new trial, citing alleged mistakes in jury instructions and an emotional jury.

But attorneys for the Cox family are also appealing, calling for the reinstatement of the full damages – approximately $98 million.

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Among the questions the Cox family attorney had to answer from judges on a state appeals court this week: What evidence was there to support such a huge award for damages?

The attorney replied, the evidence speaks for itself.

“The state delivered two young children in their custody to their father’s remote rental house. He pulled them inside, locked the door, and attacked them with a brutality that is unimaginable. And they would have seen that happening to each other,” the Cox family attorney replied. “He lit the house on fire and they died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The house exploded. The state concedes that that ordeal lasted for 22 minutes. They were conscious for nine minutes. So this is the question before the jury. Was that manner of murder sufficiently painful? Did that matter of murder provoke enough anxiety, emotional distress, and humiliation? Were those boys in insufficient fear? 12 people said yes.

“I would submit to you that the only answer to those questions is yes,” she added, noting the only legal question then is how long the boys had to suffer, but pointing out case law does not limit damages under that scenario.

On the argument about the jury responding to the details with emotion in coming up with damages, the Cox family attorney noted that the facts are the facts, and that anytime you are dealing with the murder of two young boys, things are going to get emotional.

Now it is in the hands of the State Appeals Court Panel to decide whether the state gets its new trial or whether the Cox family gets the full damages award reinstated.

It’s not clear when that decision could come down, as of this reporting.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Verdict appealed over murder of Susan Cox Powell’s children