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Brother of man who killed his sons in Washington house fire commits suicide

Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune file

Michael Powell, facing camera, locks a gate after becoming concerned about Michael Peterson, a former friend of Joshua and Susan Powell who showed up at the West Valley City home on Jan. 6, 2010, to collect a playgound set he gave the Powell children to use.

The brother of Josh Powell, the Utah man who killed his two young sons and himself in an intentionally set house fire about a year ago, has committed suicide, according to police.

Michael Powell, 30, jumped from a seven-story parking ramp near his home in downtown Minneapolis around 2:25 p.m. on Monday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. He died on impact.

Four people apparently witnessed the fall, a police report said, and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Powell’s death.

Michael Powell was a doctoral degree candidate in cognitive science at the University of Minnesota, the Tribune reported.

He was a fervent defender of his brother, Josh, who murdered his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, with a hatchet and then lit a match to a can of gasoline in a rented house near Puyallup, Wash., on Feb. 5, 2012. The house exploded within moments, killing all three.

Days before the explosion, Powell had been denied custody of the children and ordered to undergo a psychosexual evaluation after police discovered hundreds of images of disturbing cartoon sex and graphic depictions of incest on his home computer.

At the time, he was the only person of interest in his wife’s disappearance. In December 2009, Susan Powell, 28, went missing in Utah, where the family lived. Powell had told police that she had run away from their family during a midnight camping trip.

Powell had also been 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 the family.

Several months before his death, Powell changed his insurance policy to list Michael as the primary beneficiary rather than Susan. Michael was to receive a 93 percent share, and if Michael died, the insurance payout would be split evenly between his sister and father. Powell also made Michael the second beneficiary on his sons' insurance policies.

Michael Powell 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. Powell said he believed the charges against his father, is scheduled to be released in May, had been fabricated.