In juvenile court, the safety and well being of a child is presumed to be the most important factor in determining custody issues. It's for that reason that we appreciate efforts from state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, to prepare legislation that would allow juvenile judges to have greater options in determining child custody issues when one parent is suspected of murder.
Obviously, the Susan Powell case, in which her husband, Josh Powell, eventually used his limited custody rights of his children to murder their two sons, plays a factor in Weiler's proposal. Josh Powell was long considered a suspect in his wife's disappearance. The murders and suicide occurred in Washington state, but the case resonated especially in Utah, where the Powells once resided. Another case, closer to home, is a murder case involving, Dr. John Brickman Wall, who is accused of killing his wife, Uta Von Schwedler. Wall's oldest son has tried unsuccessfully to obtain custody of his father's two younger children.
Weiler has consulted with Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings about how to address these issues of protecting children when parents are suspected of murder. One solution, according to the state senator, is to allow a judge to consider giving custody to an older sibling.
Also, we hope that Weiler's efforts lead to a juvenile court judge having wider latitude in looking at evidence collected in an investigation of a murder case before assigning custody rights. As some of Weiler's colleagues have noted, this is a sensitive issue, and any custody determinations that are influenced by a murder case must not hamper the investigation.
Weiler's efforts underscore that in any juvenile custody case, every effort possible must be made to protect the vulnerable children. There are loopholes that can harm those efforts. They need to be addressed.