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Bill seeks to open custody questions in domestic homicide investigations

Published: Friday, Feb. 7 2014 10:08 p.m. MST

It is a less stringent version of the bill that failed in the Washington Legislature last year, prompted after Josh Powell killed himself and his two young sons. Powell was suspected in the disappearance and likely death of his wife, Susan Cox Powell. Rather than mandating children be removed from the home, each case would be considered individually by a juvenile court judge. (family photo) It is a less stringent version of the bill that failed in the Washington Legislature last year, prompted after Josh Powell killed himself and his two young sons. Powell was suspected in the disappearance and likely death of his wife, Susan Cox Powell. Rather than mandating children be removed from the home, each case would be considered individually by a juvenile court judge. (family photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Todd Weiler hopes no family in Utah will face the question of what to do with the children when one parent is suspected of killing the other.

The Woods Cross Republican was convinced Utah law needed a change after he was approached by Pelle Wall, son of University of Utah scientist Uta von Schwedler, who has maintained his father killed his mother since she was found dead in an overflowing bathtub in September 2011.

Weiler is sponsoring SB173, which would make it possible for concerned parties or the state to petition that children be placed in protective custody if their custodial parent is a suspect in such a murder, without the current requirement that abuse or neglect be proven.

It is a less stringent version of the bill that failed in the Washington Legislature last year, prompted after Josh Powell killed himself and his two young sons. Powell was suspected in the disappearance and likely death of his wife, Susan Cox Powell. Rather than mandating children be removed from the home, each case would be considered individually by a juvenile court judge.

The rule would rarely be employed, perhaps every other year, but could greatly increase the safety of children caught in domestic homicide cases, Weiler said. He revealed Friday a former West Valley City police officer told him a law about child custody in murder investigations might have prompted the department to name Josh Powell as a suspect much earlier in the case.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously advanced the bill Friday.

John Wall, 49, was arrested and charged last April with criminal homicide and aggravated burglary, both first-degree felonies, in von Schwedler's death.

Prior to his father's arrest, Pelle Wall lived in fear, sleeping with a knife under his pillow. He had just turned 18 and moved out when he learned that Josh Powell had blown up his Washington home killing himself and his two sons.

It was terrifying and familiar, Pelle Wall told committee members in a video he sent from his student apartment in California. His two younger siblings, ages 12 and 14, were still in his father's care.

Pelle Wall went on to spend the whole of his inheritance from his deceased mother to try to win custody of his younger siblings, who had spent more than nine months in their father's care.

"Don't pass this for those have died. … Pass it for those who have yet to be saved," Pelle Wall pleaded Friday.

Nils Abramson, von Schwedler's boyfriend at the time, and the couple who eventually adopted Pelle Wall also spoke in defense of the bill.

"We were very worried after the Powell kids were killed that what was going to stop (John Wall) from doing the same thing?" Abramson said, recounting the mounting anxiety as the children remained with their father in the days leading up his arrest. "The kids could have been saved a long time ago."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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