FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 14, 2019
Sen. Brandes files bill to better protect children and parents of murder victims -- Cites ongoing Dan Markel case as inspiration
Today, Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed legislation to protect the emotional welfare of children of murder victims whose cases are the subject of ongoing criminal investigations, but whose living parent prohibit their access to members of their deceased parent’s family. Current law does not allow a deceased parent’s family access to courts to petition for even the possibility of supervised visitation or telephone calls. The impact of cutting existing ties to the deceased parent’s family has the potential to further traumatize children already grieving their parent’s violent death.
The bill (SB 1886) was inspired in part by the ongoing, tragic story of Dan Markel, the Florida State law professor who was murdered in 2014 by hitmen allegedly working on behalf of his ex-wife and/or her family, leaving behind two young sons.
Markel’s grieving parents have not been allowed access to his children for many years. Making this worse, Markel’s ex-wife’s family, including some who have been identified by the State Attorney as involved in the murder conspiracy, are allowed unrestricted contact with the children.
“Florida has extremely strong victim rights protections, unless those victims are the minor children of murder victims,” said Jason Solomon, a friend of Markel’s and founder of Justice For Dan. “In these cases, the living parent can unilaterally limit all access to the deceased parent’s family, leaving traumatized children without the full emotional support and sense of identity needed to lead healthy lives over the long-term.”
In 2015, the Florida Legislature passed a measure to provide grandparents with the right to petition courts for visitation in cases where one parent is deceased and the other parent has been convicted of a felony. But that language did not anticipate circumstances as complex as those in which criminal investigations and proceedings remain ongoing for years, or where members of the living parent’s family are implicated in the deceased parent’s murder yet remain active in the children’s lives. This legislative gap leaves minor children vulnerable to additional trauma and victimization, and provides a perverse incentive for murder.
Brandes sees the goals of this bill as two-fold: “We need to revise the law we already have to better match its original intent, and reopen the conversation about what it means to have the best interest of children at heart, particularly when it relates to violent crime.”
“This is, at its core, an access to courts issue. The ability for grandparents to petition courts is no guarantee of visitation,” Brandes stressed. “Rather, courts must remain strongly deferential to the living parent’s authority and must take into consideration the relevant factors prior to determining what is or isn’t appropriate.”
Advocates for the measure cite their desire for children of murder victims to be given appropriate consideration by the courts, and to create a disincentive for other families who may see murder as a way to gain total control of children.
Those who were close to Dan Markel also hope to highlight the extent to which his parents have fought for the right to communicate with their grandsons.
“Someday, the Markel boys – whose mother changed their last name after their father’s murder – will Google their names, and will learn that their grandparents and extended family didn’t abandon them, and that they tried everything they could to be in their lives – including attempts to change Florida law to do so,” said Markel’s friend, Jeremy Hockenstein.
For Markel’s parents, Phil and Ruth, this proposal represents a chance to make a difference not only for their family but for others in Florida who are barred from accessing courts following tragedy.
“Following the horrible murder of our son, Dan Markel, our goal has been to embrace his children, our grandchildren, and preserve the loving relationship they have had with us and the rest of their father’s family,” Markel’s parents said. “Care and support from a loving family will help heal children subjected to violent crimes. Legislation such as this will ensure their best interests are protected. We are indebted to Senator Brandes for his interest and support in this matter.”
Contact for background:
Contact for Sen. Brandes