SALT LAKE CITY — A juvenile court judge closed the courtroom Wednesday in the case of a teenager who is asking the state to remove his siblings from their father's home pending a criminal investigation into the mysterious death of their mother.
Third District Judge Charles D. Behrens agreed with attorneys for all parties involved that shutting the doors was in the best interest of 18-year-old Pelle Wall and younger siblings. Behrens also issued a gag order in the case. Juvenile court hearings are presumed open unless a judge finds compelling reasons to close them.
Guardian ad litem Tracy Mills told the judge media coverage has caused the children difficulty at school.
Wall, the son of Uta von Schwedler and John Brickman Wall, filed a petition saying his younger siblings, ages 16, 13, and 11, are being abused and neglected by their father. Wall, who moved out of his father's house when he turned 18, said he remains so fearful for his own safety that he sometimes arms himself with knives, according to the petition.
"When things started to evolve in the Josh Powell case, it has made him a lot more aware that maybe there are things that can be done," Pelle Wall's aunt Almut von Schwedler said outside the courtroom.
"Pelle walking out was the first step in saying, 'I know that something happened that I don't like. I can't stay in that house.' And he stayed for all those months before because he wanted to protect his siblings."
On Sept. 27, 2011 — just a week after filing for a custody evaluator in court — Uta von Schwedler's body was found in an overflowing bathtub at her apartment. Her youngest child's photo album was found in the tub with her. A knife was found under her body. Blood was found in her bedroom, on the edge of a sink and windowsill in the bathroom.
The medical examiner listed her cause of death as drowning. But the manner of death "could not be determined." The autopsy noted that questionable injuries also found on her body "leave some question as to the exact scenario under which her death occurred."
A high amount of Xanax was found in von Schwedler's system, something her family said she did not have a prescription for and did not take. No Xanax bottles were found in her home, according to court records.
The autopsy left open the possibility that her death could have been a homicide or suicide.
A Salt Lake police investigation remains open. The petition claims it is focused on John Wall.
Almut von Schwedler said she and her family suspect Uta von Schwedler died a "premeditated" and "violent death."
"I believe my sister was killed by Johnny," she said, adding he was frustrated over her sister seeking the custody re-evaluation.
Almut von Schwedler traveled from her home in Australia to support her nephew. But because attorneys identified her as a potential witness, she was barred from the courtroom Wednesday. She also is the executor of her sister's will.
"(Pelle) is very uncomfortable even being in his father's presence," she said. "He feels very strong about going forward and keeping those children safe."
Wall and Von Schwedler, both researchers and doctors, were divorced in 2006. But their rancorous battle over visitation and custody of their four children continued.
Court documents, filed in late April, are the latest moves in a bitter family feud that started before von Schwedler died and has continued with recent court hearings.
At times, the children have been left without adequate food or transportation, the petition states. The siblings have even resorted to hoarding food in their backpacks. At times, the house has allegedly been filthy, including a time in December when there was dog feces all over the basement.
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