HOUSTON, Texas — (DMN) – The FBI and the Texas Rangers are both questioning staffers at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Sources near the inquiry say the agents want to know more about the office’s investigation in the grand jury that was investigating the Houston Police Department’s BAT vans. Last Tuesday, the District Attorney denied investigating the grand jury only to change course a day later and admit to telling her chief investigator to look into their political connections.
KTRK-TV reports that over the course of last week, District Attorney Pat Lykos and her chief investigator shifted their stories, adding information that revealed the fact they did use county resources to look into grand jurors’ past. Now it appears two separate law enforcement agencies want to know more about what they did. All along, the DA was insistent she’d done nothing criminally wrong handling evidence from HPD’s BAT vans. And on the day last week when a grand jury decided not to indict anyone, she called their efforts a politically motivated hounding of her office and wanted it over. “It is more than enough time that this pall that has hung over our office is removed,” Lykos said in a press conference last week.
KTRK-TV’s Ted Oberg reports that at first Lykos said she didn’t authorize any investigation of grand jurors. “I know nothing of that, I certainly didn’t authorize the investigation — and, you know, give me a name,” said Lykos. But once reporters got that name, Lykos admitted she ordered her chief investigator Don McWilliams to conduct internet searches on grand jurors, special prosecutors and two judges. At least some of those searches were conducted with county paid for databases. “Does that constitute a misuse or abuse of official information?” KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said.
After reviewing Texas law, Androphy suggested the DA searches may have crossed the line. Grand jurors’ names were sealed by court order months before the DA told her chief investigator to dig up their political past. “They had access to the names and they were searching out the names that no one else had the ability to search out,” Androphy said. “And that may cause legal problems for them?” we asked Androphy. “Absolutely. And at least it will cause someone to review this,” he replied.
The fact that the FBI and Texas Rangers are asking questions about what went on doesn’t necessarily mean any laws were broken. But for a DA who wanted to move past this and lift the “pall” over her office, this cannot be a welcome development. Lykos’ general counsel, John Barnhill, wrote a statement saying only, “Should there be an investigation, we shall cooperate fully.”
People tend to complain about appeals courts and the United States Supreme Court when decisions don’t go their way. The reality is that courts of appeal and the Supreme Court are incredibly important parts of our government. They prevent mob rule. We are not a nation where the majority rules. We are a nation of laws and the constitution. There was a time in this great nation where the majority clearly supported slavery. Was it constitutional? Of course not. The high courts prevent abuses of the constitution which is why banning gay marriage will, eventually, end up in the Supreme Court.
A federal appeals court ruled against California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday, arguing the ban unconstitutionally singles out gays and lesbians for discrimination. In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the state’s Proposition 8 “works a meaningful harm to gays and lesbians” by denying their right to civil marriage in violation of the 14th Amendment. Supporters of same-sex marriages cheered the decision when it was announced outside the courthouse Tuesday morning. “Happy Valentine’s Day, California,” one man in the crowd shouted when the decision was released. The 2-1 decision is expected to be appealed, to either the full court or to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a stay of the order remains in place as the appeal process continues, the court noted.
“We do not doubt the importance of the more general questions presented to us concerning the rights of same-sex couples to marry, nor do we doubt that these questions will likely be resolved in other states, and for the nation as a whole, by other courts,” Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Daly Hawkins wrote in the majority opinion.
“For now, it suffices to conclude that the people of California may not, consistent with the federal Constitution, add to their state constitution a provision that has no more practical effect than to strip gays and lesbians of the right to use the official designation that the state and society give to committed relationships, thereby adversely affecting the status and dignity of the members of a disfavored class.”
In a part-concurring, part-dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith said he wasn’t sure Proposition 8 “lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests” in terms of raising children. Previous rulings show an argument for “extreme judicial restraint” in such cases, he wrote. But same-sex marriage activist Billy Bradford said Tuesday’s ruling marks how Americans understand there’s nothing wrong with allowing a same-sex couple to get married. “For me, it’s a beautiful day,” Bradford told CNN outside the courthouse. “But it’s a great day for the Constitution.”
Proposition 8, which passed in 2009 with 52% of the vote. California’s Supreme Court had allowed same-sex marriages in California before Proposition 8, but its passage brought an end to the practice. The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal foundation that backed Proposition 8, said it was not surprised that “this Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage — tried in San Francisco — turned out this way.” But it said it was confident the Supreme Court would uphold “the expressed will of the American people.” “No court should presume to redefine marriage. No court should undercut the democratic process by taking the power to preserve marriage out of the hands of the people,” it said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage point out that they have won referenda in every state where the issue has been on the ballot. But a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll in September found that public opinion has shifted nationwide since 2009, with 53% now saying same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid and 46% opposed. Tuesday’s decision also rejected arguments by supporters of the ban that now-retired federal judge Vaughn Walker — who found Proposition 8 unconstitutional in 2010 — should have stepped aside and let another judge hear the case. Walker disclosed after his retirement that he is gay and in a long-term relationship, leading Proposition 8 advocates to argue he should not have heard the case.
Prior to Walker’s ruling, the California Supreme Court allowed Proposition 8 to stand, saying it represented the will of the people. California Attorney General Kamala Harris hailed Tuesday’s decision as “a victory for fairness, a victory for equality and a victory for justice,” while Gov. Jerry Brown called it “a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry.” And Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had allowed same-sex marriages when he was mayor of San Francisco, called it “a historic milestone towards equality for all Americans.” “This is the biggest step that the American judicial system has taken to end the grievous discrimination against men and women in same-sex relationships and should be highly praised,” Newsom said in a written statement.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the decision appears to be tailored narrowly to California and Proposition 8, rather than finding a federal right for gay and lesbian couples to marry. But that might be an advantage when the Supreme Court considers any appeal, since the justices might decide against taking a case that has no impact beyond California. “This might well be the last word on the case,” Toobin said. Six states currently grant same-sex marriage licenses — New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia also does. Five additional states recognize civil unions, providing state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples. They are Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island.
The Powell family.
PALLAYUP, Washington — (DMN/CNN) – Minutes before he wounded his two young sons with a hatchet and set his house ablaze, killing all three of them, Josh Powell left a last voicemail to family members. “I am not able to live without my sons, and I’m not able to go on anymore,” he said, according to ABC News, which obtained the voicemail. “I’m sorry to everyone I’ve hurt. Goodbye.” The two children, Charlie, 7, and 5-year-old Braden died Sunday along with their father in what police believe was a murder-suicide.
Investigators found the hatchet they believe was used on the boys in Powell’s Graham, Washington, home, said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Authorities believe Powell set an explosive fire there after wounding the boys Sunday afternoon. Powell was a suspect in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox-Powell. Autopsies showed his sons, 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie, suffered “chop” injuries to their necks, but both boys and their father died from inhaling carbon monoxide, the county medical examiner’s office said. But before dousing his Puyallup home with gasoline and setting it ablaze, Powell gave toys and books to charity and sent multiple goodbye e-mails, authorities said Monday.
That evidence suggests that Powell planned the deaths for some time, Troyer said — “I believe this was intentional.” It was a tragic development in a puzzling saga that began two years ago in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Valley City, Utah, when 28-year-old Cox-Powell disappeared. The farewell e-mails Powell sent included one to his attorney, saying simply: “I’m sorry. Goodbye.” He also sent e-mails to his pastor and others just minutes before the fire, giving instructions on how to handle his end-of-life business, according to Troyer. The sheriff’s department has copies of some of the e-mails sent to the attorney, family and friends, saying “he couldn’t live with what was going on,” Troyer said.
The spokesman added that authorities found two five-gallon cans of gas in the home, one of which appeared to have been lit right next to the bodies, which were found together in the same room. On Sunday, a social worker brought the boys to Powell’s home for a court-ordered supervised visit, authorities said. But as they approached the door, Powell pushed the social worker back, took the boys inside and locked the door. The social worker, who later reported smelling something similar to gas at the time, tried “pounding the doors, trying to get in,” said Gary Franz, a deputy chief with Graham, Washington, Fire and Rescue.
About two minutes later, as the social worker was calling her supervisor, the house exploded, Franz said. The powerful blast shook houses, with debris landing on lawns blocks away. The deaths of Powell and the children could mean Cox-Powell’s disappearance might never be solved. Still, the case remains open and investigators vowed to pursue it until the point of closure. “I promised the Coxes I wasn’t giving up, and I’m still not because we want to get some closure here,” West Valley City, Utah, Police Chief Buzz Nielsen said Monday. “The case is still active; we’re not closing the case. We still got things that have not been resolved.”
Cox-Powell’s sister, Denise Cox, told CNN on Tuesday she had been told by her family that Powell could be arrested within a few weeks and that authorities were attempting to build a case against him despite the lack of a body. “We were all excited that something was going to happen,” she said, adding the family was hoping that a deal could be made or Powell could be coerced to divulge his wife’s whereabouts. In the meantime, Powell, who had not been arrested or charged, was embroiled in an ugly custody dispute with the Cox family. In recent months, the children had started opening up and talking about what happened the night their mother disappeared, members of the Cox family said. “They basically kept saying how they went on a vacation in the desert, and camping … they stopped at some place, and mommy and daddy left, and only daddy came back,” Judy Cox, Susan Cox-Powell’s mother, told NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday.
Chuck Cox, Susan Cox-Powell’s father, told “Today” that the younger boy, Braden, had drawn a picture of the family’s minivan. Asked who was in the minivan, the child told his teachers “that was his daddy, Charlie and himself, and that Mommy was in the trunk,” he said. But, Cox told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the boys’ remarks were inconsistent. “When I would say, ‘Well, daddy said mommy stayed home’ (from the camping trip), then they would go back to, ‘I don’t remember,” a rehearsed, you know, a coached statement,” he said.
Authorities believe that by setting the fire, Powell not only killed his children — he eliminated evidence in his wife’s disappearance. “Those boys were evidence. Those boys were going to be evidence against him,” Troyer said. “You’re looking at somebody who’s willing to kill their own kids … killing your wife isn’t that much of a stretch from there.” Asked whether she believes Powell’s motive was the custody battle or remarks made by the children, Judy Cox told “Today” she felt it was both. “He was feeling cornered,” she said. “… Basically, he didn’t like us, and he wanted to get the kids away from us so much,” she said. “It really bothered him that the boys were showing such affection to Chuck.”
Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies and Graham Firefighters work around the smoldering remains of a house near Fredrickson, Wash., Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012, where, according to a sheriff’s spokesman, three bodies were were found. The bodies are believed to be Josh Powell and his two sons. The explosion occurred moments after a Child Protective Services worker brought the two boys to the home for a supervised visit. (AP)
According to investigators, Powell had said the last time he saw his wife was the night he and his sons — then ages 2 and 4 — left to go camping after midnight in freezing weather. Cox-Powell’s sister eventually reported her missing. A month later, Powell and his children moved from Utah to Washington. The double homicide and suicide on Sunday came days after a judge refused Powell’s petition to regain custody of his children. The judge instead ordered Powell undergo psychological evaluations — an order that came after authorities turned up child pornography in the home Powell shared with his father, Steven Powell.
As part of the investigation into Cox-Powell’s disappearance, a search of the home was conducted last year. During the search, investigators “discovered numerous images and recordings of adult and juvenile females,” according to a statement released by the Pierce County sheriff’s department. Steven Powell, was subsequently charged with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possessing images of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct, according to court documents. After the arrest of Powell’s father, custody of his sons went to the Coxes, according to Washington state court records. Powell maintained in court documents filed last week that he established his own home after his father’s arrest and had “consistently proven my fitness as a stable and loving parent under close supervision by (child welfare caseworkers).”
The Coxes said they were concerned about Powell’s having visitation, but noted that several previous visitations were uneventful. However, they were worried about the first visitation after the court’s ruling, Chuck Cox said on “Today.” “We knew that if he was cornered and felt like there was no way out, that he was capable of this,” he said of Powell. The couple had communicated their concerns to police and child welfare workers, he said. “I understand they have a lot of people and they deal with a lot of people who exaggerate the threat — cry wolf, if you will,” he said. But, given the circumstances, “… we felt they should have taken more care.” He told “Good Morning America” on Tuesday his only warning that something may be about to happen was that Powell appeared to have stepped up his cooperation with child welfare workers. “I remember he seemed to be cooperating more with my daughter before she went missing,” Chuck Cox said. “That was a warning sign to me.”
Despite their grief, the family is attempting to open up to the public “spreading the word on how wonderful the boys were, and how tragic it is, and trying to drum up some more attention” so a search for Cox-Powell can be launched, Denise Cox said. Sunday morning, Judy Cox told “Today,” the boys did not want to go to their father’s, although they sometimes did look forward to visits with him. The Coxes told NBC their faith helps them stay strong. “We know where our daughter is, and we know that she’s not here on this Earth … and that she’s safe,” Chuck Cox said. “And we know the boys are back with their mother, and that gives us a lot of strength.”
CBS News contributed to this report.