SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Accused killers can no longer hide assets in domestic-related murders.
It’s all about money and assets that a couple share. When there was a murder involving a couple, those assets were legally transferred by the alleged killer leaving the victim’s family high and dry when a wrongful death lawsuit was later filed. But that’s now changed.
The legislature revised its slayer statute which went into effect in May. It’s the result of too many families of victims getting re-victimized through the legal system.
That’s what happened in a 2014 murder between a husband and wife.
“She seemed to be really happy with him, Melanie had a rough life,” said her mother Ellen Rowe in 2018.
Her daughter, Melanie Callison’s life came to an end at a campsite near Richfield.
Her husband Ed Callison confessed to mutilating her body and burning it in a campfire. Callison was sentenced to life in prison.
Melanie’s family was awarded $2 million dollars in a wrongful death lawsuit.
“I knew Melanie would have wanted her nieces to have had a good education,” said Rowe. “And that was part of our thoughts.”
But they never happened. They never received any money from Callison. While in jail he signed over his property to his first wife, thus sheltering all his assets.
In 2019, Sue Hickman was convicted of manslaughter. Two years earlier she called 911 and confessed to shooting her partner. She was convicted of manslaughter. The house the couple shared was sold after Harris’ death.
“She ended up getting half of the profit, half of the equity that we sold the house for,” said Harris’ sister Suzi Palmer.
Harris’ family tried to block Hickman from getting any money but the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit had expired.
After their stories got the attention of the legislature, lawmakers changed the laws so that the families of victims weren’t victimized again.
“The minute that the killer pulls the trigger or commits the murder, not only are the estate’s assets are frozen, but they cannot profit from them,” said Brandon Merrill with the Utah Homicide Survivors. “Also, the killer’s assets will also be frozen.
The Utah Homicide Survivors organization championed the change in the law. Merril said it won’t help older cases like Melanie Callison or Rosie Harris but it will help others from here on.
“It basically means a killer can’t profit from their crime,” Merrill said. “The family can recover the killer’s assets to pay for wrongful death damages.”
Merrill said the changes in the law also streamlines a civil lawsuit. He said if the defendant is found guilty, the person is automatically found guilty in a wrongful death lawsuit.