Hearing closed in controversial Utah child custody case
A juvenile court judge on Wednesday closed a hearing and also issued a gag order in connection with a controversial child custody case where an 18-year-old believes his father murdered his mother.
Pelle von Schwedler Wall has filed a petition in 3rd District Juvenile Court aimed at removing his three siblings from the home of his father, pediatrician John Brickman Wall, because they are allegedly in danger.
Uta von Schwedler, 49, was found dead in the bath tub at her Sugar House home last September.
Salt Lake City police have called her death "suspicious," although the medical examiner has not determined if it was a homicide or suicide.
John Wall, 48, is accused in the court petition of failing to properly care for the children, as well as inflicting "non-accidental harm, threatened harm and emotional damage."
At the beginning of Wednesday's court hearing, a motion was made to close the hearing to the public, and John Wall's criminal attorney, G. Fred Metos, said closure was in the best interest of the children and his client.
"Because of articles in the paper, my client has been confronted by people" regarding the case, Metos said, which has led to escalating stress.
Representatives with the Utah Attorney General's office and the Department of Child and Family Services were in attendance, along with Wall's civil attorney and an attorney for Pelle. All agreed it was in the children's best interest to close the courtroom, and Judge Charles Behrens complied.
Almut von Schwedler, who is Uta von Schwedler's sister and executor of her sister's estate, was denied access to the hearing because she may be a witness at a later date. Part of Almut von Schwedler's responsibilities are to oversees funds intended for the children's health, education and support, according to her attorney Deacon Haymond.
Almut von Schwedler said she flew to Utah from Australia to oversee the children's welfare and support Pelle.
She said the whole von Schwedler family has been in mourning and disarray since her sister's death, adding that she maintains her sister did not commit suicide.
"I believe my sister was killed by Johnny [her ex-husband]," Almut von Schwedler said outside of court.
Salt Lake City police continue to investigate the case, but after seven months have not named any persons of interest.
Uta von Schwedler's children have been the subject of a bitter custody battle since their parents divorced in 2006. They began living exclusively with their father after their mother's death. Pelle moved out in January.
The court petition requests placing the three children with another family or in protective custody, at least until the investigation into von Schwedler's death is resolved. Pelle said the last time he saw his mother alive, Wall had picked up him and his siblings from her house. When Uta tried to talk to Wall about the ongoing custody dispute, he just rolled the window up and drove away.
The next day, Sept. 27, 2011, von Schwedler's body was found by her boyfriend.
The medical examiner's office has not determined if her death was a homicide or suicide, but found the cause of death was drowning. The report stated von Schwedler's wounds "are not typical of self-inflicted wounds seen in the setting of a suicide." The wounds could be viewed as defensive injuries if the woman had been struggling with an assailant, according to the report.