SALT LAKE CITY -- Two high-profile murder cases have pushed Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, to initiate legislation to potentially change some parental rights provisions, when one parent is accused of murdering another.
Weiler told a child welfare panel on Tuesday he has opened a bill file to take a new look at parental rights in special cases, based on the disappearance of Susan Powell and the subsequent murder/suicide by her spouse Josh Powell of their two children in Washington state.
He also cited a case in Salt Lake City, where Dr. John Brickman Wall is currently being held for the 2011 murder of his ex-wife, Uta Von Schwedler. Pelle Wall, the couple's oldest son, tried unsuccessfully to gain custody of the couple's two minor children.
Pelle Wall contacted Weiler about looking at some changes in the law, panel members were told.
Weiler said he consulted with Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings about how such high-profile cases might be addressed in juvenile court, without jeopardizing the investigation itself. He wants to give juvenile court judges some options in considering the custody of children in such unique circumstances. One option would include potentially giving custody to older siblings.
"I would rather have the judge have discretion to apply," Weiler said of such cases. "As a legislator and a parent I value parental rights, but these are unique cases."
Weiler said Pelle Wall told him that one of his siblings was sleeping with a weapon under his pillow, because he was afraid his father might try to kill him during the night.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, wondered what kind of trigger the Weiler bill might include.
Weiler said a murder investigation would be the trigger a judge could use to consider the potential parental rights provisions. He said the juvenile could potentially review evidence of the investigating agency to make the custody determination, without harming the investigation.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, who chairs the child welfare panel, said he's glad to see Weiler tackling the sensitive issue.
"I applaud you for trying to walk this fine line, where we can take some of those rights away," Christensen said.