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Governor signs law to protect children when 1 parent is suspected of killing the other

Published: Thursday, March 20 2014 6:25 p.m. MDT

Sen.Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, left, watches as Gov. Gary Herbert ceremonial signs SB173 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 20, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Pelle Wall and his friends and family were on hand when Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB173 into law Thursday afternoon.

The new law is meant to protect children whose parent is the primary suspect in the death of the other parent.

Wall, 20, spent all of the money he inherited from his mother, Uta von Schwedler, in an effort to have his siblings — then ages 16, 12 and 11 — taken away from his father, who was suspected of killing his von Schwedler in September 2011. Because of the law, the children twice had to go back to their father.

"I needed to protect my siblings because I felt like my father was an immediate threat to him," said Wall, who in fear of his father slept with a knife under his pillow for a period of time.

After two years being a person of interest, John Wall was arrested and charged with criminal homicide in his ex-wife's death.

"I'm very, very happy about this bill being signed," Pelle Wall said. "I think it has really tremendous potential to save a lot of lives. I know it would've been an immediate relief for me and my family."

Now that SB173 is law, individuals can ask a juvenile district court judge to have children removed temporarily from the primary suspect parent's home. The children would be removed until the criminal process is complete.

Herbert said the law will give "our judiciary, our judges and courts the discretion and ability to, in fact, come up with recommendations which will probably save lives and protect children, particularly in difficult circumstances we see all too often in our society."

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, previously said the bill was discussed thoroughly and narrowed to "thread the needle between protecting parental rights and the rights of children."

About a year ago, before John Wall was arrested, Pelle Wall, two of his aunts and his mother's partner at the time of her death, Nils Abramson, approached Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, to discuss possible legislation to protect children in such cases.

"It would've put in the legal basis for giving me an avenue to protect my siblings immediately, rather than go through all the legal proceedings on my own dime," Pelle Wall said.

Similar legislation in Washington state last year looked to remove the children hastily from such situations in response to the Josh Powell case.

Powell, who was suspected of killing his wife, Susan Cox Powell, in December 2009, maintained partial custody of his two sons. When the children were dropped off at his home for a supervised visit, Josh Powell murdered his children, Charlie and Braden, and killed himself.

"I had two former West Valley police officers tell me that had this bill been in effect, they would have named Josh as the primary suspect. They just didn't have anything push them over the edge," Weiler said.

Police can provide that evidence in a closed proceeding to prevent compromising any investigation.

Pelle Wall is now finishing up his second year at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. He was adopted by Amy Oglesby, who helped him get out of his father's house when he turned 18. Oglesby and her husband, John, have permanent custody of Pelle Wall's three siblings.

Oglesby said the younger siblings were with their father the last six weeks before he was arrested.

"It's a great comfort because when we had absolutely no way of protecting his siblings, we always wondered if they would fall into the same fate as Charlie and Braden Powell," Oglesby said. "And that was the biggest fear every day. Every day that they were with their father was horrible."

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Madeleine6

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