Michael Powell moved to Minnesota in 2010 and was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. He was a doctoral degree candidate in cognitive science, according to a university spokesman.
Michael Powell was an ardent defender of his brother Josh, who killed himself and his two sons in an intentionally set house fire in Graham, Wash., a year ago. Josh Powell was the only person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell. She was last seen Dec. 6, 2009, at the couple's West Valley City, Utah, home.
He also fiercely defended their father, Steve Powell, who was convicted in May 2012 of 14 counts of voyeurism for surreptitious photographs he took of two girls who lived near his home in Puyallup.
Two counts were dismissed at sentencing. Steve Powell is serving a prison term in Monroe, Wash. He is scheduled to be released in May.
In posts to a short-lived website, Michael Powell said he did not believe law enforcement had evidence to support the voyeurism charges then pending against his father, which he said had been fabricated to "inflict maximum damage to the Powell family's reputation and long-term financial situation."
He also said West Valley City Police had overlooked other credible leads in Susan Powell's disappearance, including a possible connection to the disappearance of Utahn Steven Koecher.
At the time of his death, Michael Powell was embroiled in a legal battle in U.S. District Court for Western Washington with Susan's parents Chuck and Judy Cox over $1.5 million in insurance policies issued to Josh Powell and sons Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.
About four months before his death, Josh Powell changed his policy to list Michael Powell, rather than his wife Susan and a family trust, as the primary beneficiary. Michael Powell was to receive a 93 percent share, with 4 percent left to Alina Powell and 3 percent to brother John. In the event of Michael's death, the proceeds were to be split equally between Alina Powell and their father. Josh Powell also made Michael Powell the secondary beneficiary on his sons' policies.
Jennifer Graves, another sister, is estranged from her siblings but was said to be devastated after learning the news Monday.
"They are kind of numb at this time and just very, very sad," said Kiirsi Hellewell, who was Susan's close friend and who has grown close to Graves since her sister-in-law's disappearance. Graves, who lives in Utah, considered Josh Powell a suspect in his wife's disappearance and that put her at odds with her siblings.
Despite that, she "still loves all of them," Hellewell said. "This just adds to the tragedy and horror she's had to go through."
Josh Powell made the changes to the policies about a week after his father's arrest and three days after his sons were placed in the temporary care of their maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox. Josh Powell was trying to regain custody of his sons when he killed them shortly after they arrived at his rented home for a supervised visit.
New York Life Insurance Co., which filed the court action, wants a federal judge to sort out whether the changes Josh Powell made to those policies are valid and still payable given the murder/suicide that resulted in his death and that of his children. It also wants the court to decide what should happen with a $1 million policy in Susan Powell's name.
Michael Powell filed a response in the cases on Monday, objecting to the appointment in January of Chuck Cox as sole conservator of his daughter's estate without any notice to him, which he alleged was required by trust documents.
Josh and Susan Powell also had policies totalling $1 million from Beneficial Life that listed each other as beneficiaries.
Before moving to Minnesota, Michael Powell ran unsuccessfully for a state representative seat in Washington state's District 2. In 2008, he served as a Democratic National Convention Delegate for Barack Obama.
He served five years in the U.S. Army as a signals analyst and human intelligence collector and was a sergeant when he was honorably discharged on Nov. 2, 2007. He graduated from the Defense Language Institute and was fluent in Korean. He earned a bachelor's degree in Asian Studies with a Korean focus at the University of Washington.