WASHINGTON - According to legal experts, Utah prosecutors had enough evidence to convict Josh Powell with his wife’s murder, even though her body was never recovered.
Josh Powell was never arrested when his wife, Susan Powell, disappeared in December 2009 from their home in West Valley City, Utah.
Josh Powell said that he took a late-night camping trip in Utah with his two boys on the night Susan Powell disappeared.
Weeks after Powell disappeared, Josh Powell and the couple’s two sons moved to Washington.
Earlier this year, Powell killed the couple’s two young sons and himself after setting his home on fire.
A search warrant was unsealed late March that revealed evidence that the West Valley City police had obtained. This included Susan's blood had been found in the couple's home, on a tile floor near a couch that Josh Powell had cleaned the night she disappeared.
Other information found in the search warrant:
- When Josh Powell arrived at his house from his purported camping trip, police greeted him and learned that he had his wife's cellphone in his van, with the digital SIM card removed. He couldn't explain why he had her phone.
- Asked why he hadn't been answering his cellphone, Powell said he didn't have a charger for it and was conserving the battery. A detective could see the phone was sitting on the center console of his car, plugged into the cigarette lighter.
- Asked why he didn't tell his boss he wouldn't be coming into work that day - a Monday - Powell said he thought it was Sunday.
- Susan Powell left a letter in a safety deposit box warning that she and Josh had been having marital problems for the past four years, that he had threatened to destroy her if they got divorced, and stating that if anything happened to her, it might not be an accident, even if it looks like one.
- The day after Susan was reported missing, Josh Powell rented a car at the Salt Lake City airport. He returned it two days later, having driven it more than 800 miles.
- Ten days after Susan was reported missing, Josh Powell cleaned out her retirement accounts.
Josh Powell's alibi was that he left the house in the middle of that night with the couple's sons to go camping in the freezing, snowy Utah desert. When he returned the next day, Susan had been reported missing because she didn't show up to work.
Police have indicated they believe Josh Powell's father, Steve, may have some knowledge of what happened to her. But he hasn't cooperated with authorities.
So called "nobody" convictions have occurred all over the country, including in Utah. And scholars, defense lawyers and other prosecutors who have followed the case believe Utah authorities likely could have convicted Josh Powell had they pressed forward with the case.
Lohra Miller was the Salt Lake County district attorney for the first year of the Susan Powell investigation. She did not return messages from The Associated Press, but told the Deseret News that her office had not been ready to bring charges because there was no body.
"You have to have either a substantial period of time where the person is missing where you can assume she's dead and prove beyond a reasonable doubt she's dead to a jury, or some pretty overwhelming evidence as to the fact that she's dead and the person did it," Miller said. "They're very, very hard cases to prove."
"With all of those pieces of information, there is more than a sufficient basis to charge this case and bring this individual to trial, and quite likely enough to get a conviction," said Erik Luna, a former prosecutor who taught criminal law at the University of Utah for a decade and is now at Washington and Lee University Law School.
Detectives with the West Valley City Police Department still consider Susan Powell’s disappearance an open case.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.