SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that would remove children from the homes of people considered suspects in murder investigations.
Senate Bill 173 had the backing of families caught up in some high-profile murder and disappearance cases.
“I know it would have been an immediate relief for me and my family,” said Pelle Wall, whose mother, Uta von Schwedler, was found murdered in her home.
Wall spent most of his inheritance fighting his father for custody of his siblings. He has accused his father, Dr. Johnny Wall, of killing her. For a time before Dr. Wall was charged with murder, the children lived with them.
“If this law had been in place, it definitely would have provided that immediate relief I was talking about,” Pelle Wall told FOX 13. “So rather than having to go to court and my siblings being in and out of households and being uncertain about where they would be, they would have been immediately removed from his care pending the police investigation.”
SB 173 was sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who said von Schwedler’s family approached him about legislation to make it easier to remove children in situations like theirs.
“All we’re looking at is maybe a temporary reassignment of custody, it’s not a criminal case,” he said. “It’s a juvenile case. we’d be looking at what’s in the best interest of the children.”
SB 173 allows a juvenile court judge to consider a petition by another family member to remove children in homicide cases. The judge could also look at the police investigation under seal to see if removal is warranted, Weiler said.
The bill has the endorsement of the family of missing West Valley City mom Susan Cox Powell, whose children were murdered by their father, Josh Powell, after a lengthy custody battle with Susan’s parents.
“I had some former police officers from West Valley, call me from out of the blue and say had this bill been in effect, they believe not only would they have named Josh Powell as the prime suspect but it would have protected these boys,” Weiler said.
Signing the bill, Gov. Herbert praised the bill for its impact. It goes into effect in May.
“It would give our judiciary, our judges and juvenile courts more discretion and the ability to come up with recommendations that will save lives and protect children,” he said.