TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A judge has dismissed a child pornography charge against Steve Powell, the father-in-law of missing Utah mother Susan Powell.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper agreed with defense attorneys who argued that the crime of possessing child pornography requires that the depictions include sexually explicit behavior or that the defendant have some control over the behavior of the children photographed.
Steve Powell was accused of secretly recording thousands of images of women and of two young, neighbor girls in their home as they took baths and used the toilet.
Prosecutors argued that Washington lawmakers changed the child porn law in 2010 to make clear that such activity is illegal. They did not immediately say whether they would appeal.
Powell still faces 14 counts of voyeurism. Jury selection in his case began Monday.
Susan Powell is presumed dead, apparently at the hands of her husband, Josh Powell, who was Steve Powell's son. Josh Powell killed himself and the couple's two sons in a fiery explosion in February at a house in Graham.
Josh Powell and the boys had moved into his father's home in Puyallup after Susan Powell's disappearance three years ago.
Officers were searching the home for clues last summer when they said they came across voyeuristic images on Steve Powell's computers. They included shots of young neighbor girls bathing and using the toilet, authorities said.
There also were images of Susan Powell that appeared to be secretly recorded, and pictures of naked women with her head superimposed, authorities said.
The trial is more torment for Susan Powell's parents, but they hope it will lead to answers.
"We don't expect a great deal, but we want to be there," said her father, Chuck Cox. "Maybe he'll decide he has lost, and that he needs to propose a bargain to tell the detectives what he knows. Perhaps he might decide he can inflict one more insult by blurting out something that might be useful."
The disappearance, which had already drawn national attention, took a bizarre turn last summer as authorities from Washington and Utah stepped up their efforts to solve the case. Steve Powell claimed on TV that he and Susan Powell had a sexually charged relationship, something her parents angrily denied.
Steve Powell's arrest prompted the state to take custody of Josh Powell's sons, Charlie and Braden, who were living with their father at Steve Powell's home.
The boys were turned over to Susan Powell's parents, prompting a custody fight that ended Feb. 5, when Josh Powell locked a social worker out of his home during what was supposed to be a supervised Sunday visit with his sons. He attacked Charlie and Braden, 7 and 5, with a hatchet, then started a gas-fueled fire that consumed all three of them as the social worker frantically called 911.
Steve Powell, who had a close relationship with his son, has remained jailed on $200,000 bail since his arrest in September, and he has made no public statements about the murder-suicide.
He was originally charged with more than a dozen counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of child pornography, although the child porn charge was dropped Monday.
Police in West Valley City, Utah, have characterized Steve Powell as uncooperative in their investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance. He has invoked his right to remain silent, and no evidence has emerged to suggest he traveled to Utah the weekend his daughter-in-law disappeared.
Before he died, Josh Powell maintained he knew nothing about what happened to her because he had taken the boys on a midnight camping trip in the freezing Utah desert when she vanished.
Police say her blood was found in the house, on the floor near a sofa that had just been cleaned, and that within days of her disappearance, Josh Powell cleaned out her retirement accounts. He gave some statements that were obviously false when first questioned by police, investigators said.
One of Steve Powell's lawyers, Mark Quigley, said he expected some of the backstory of the case to be discussed at the trial. But he added: "We know what it's about and what it's not about. It's not about his son and his son's wife."
He declined to say whether he expects Steve Powell to testify.
The state's potential witnesses include investigators from Washington and Utah, as well as the mother of the neighbor girls Steve Powell is accused of recording.
"Our office is focused on holding Steven Powell accountable for the crimes he committed in Pierce County that we can prove," prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. "We anticipate some of the peripheral issues will arise, but our trial will stay on course."