Susan Powell's family asks judge to hold state accountable over killing of her sons

TACOMA -- It’s a crime that shocked the Northwest and the nation.

Now the family of Charlie and Braden Powell are demanding justice for the two young boys who were killed by their father, Josh Powell, before he committed suicide in 2012.

Powell is believed to have killed his wife, Susan Powell, in Utah, in 2009, before moving to Puyallup, where he killed their two young sons and himself in an explosive house fire in Graham.

Before the deaths, Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, wrangled with Josh Powell over custody of the boys.

Chuck Cox, said he told Child Protective Services that his grandchildren were in danger from Josh two days before their horrific slayings.

“They have to be held accountable,” Cox said of CPS.

He added, “He (Josh) was cornered and I was concerned for the safety of our children I made that known to social workers and I was told it was OK,” Cox said.

On Thursday, the Cox family entered federal court asking a judge to hold CPS responsible for allowing Josh to have visitation with Charlie and Braden, even after knowing Powell could be involved in his wife’s disappearance.

“This is the worst case I have seen by DSHS and CPS, two boys murdered by their dad by a hatchet and in a fire,” said Cox family attorney Anne Bremner.

The killings happened during a CPS supervised visitation in 2012. Josh locked a social worker out of the house and killed the children.

Bremner says social workers ignored a constellation of red flags in the days leading up to the murders.

“They believed Josh killed his wife and the boys were potentially witnesses. They ignored that huge fact and still let Josh have visitation in his own house, not even a secure facility,” Bremner said.

But the state Attorney General’s Office is defending CPS, saying the department has immunity because it was simply following a judge's order.

“There is oversight on the juvenile court in the first place, a guardian ... is involved, in this case there was a psychologist who did a full evaluation of Josh Powell determining his fitness as a parent,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Helmberger said.

Ultimately, the determination of culpability will come from the federal judge who heard both sides on Thursday.

Judge Ronald Leighton called the murders a tragedy but has delayed his ruling for another day. It could take weeks for the judge to issue a written ruling. If he sides with the state, CPS will be off the hook but if he sides with the plaintiffs, the next phase will be a jury trial on the lawsuit.