Fairfax Lawmaker Aims to Close Slayer Statute Loophole

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

RICHMOND -- A Loudoun County man who shot his wife to death and waited two days to report it to police was nearly allowed to cash in on her life insurance last year.

Now, a Fairfax County lawmaker wants to close what he says is a legal loophole that almost let John Ludwig collect on the $100,000 policy his wife took out a short time before he shot her five times in their Ashburn home.

Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) has introduced a bill that would broaden the state's "slayer statute," which is supposed to prevent killers from financially benefiting from their crimes. Under current law, only those convicted of murder are explicitly barred from collecting life insurance or inheriting property.

Under Petersen's bill, the law would be expanded to cover such people as Ludwig, who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, a less serious crime than intentional murder.

"To me, it's simple justice that someone who causes the death of another, whether you call it murder or manslaughter, they shouldn't be able to profit from their crime," Petersen said.

Ludwig, a former U.S. marshal, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the July 2005 slaying of Karen Ludwig. The couple had been arguing in their Ashburn home when Ludwig pulled out his service revolver and shot her multiple times. He then tried to commit suicide by downing alcohol and pills, he told the court during his 2006 trial.

Ludwig's attorneys argued that he shot his wife after she pulled a gun on him, a detail that Ludwig said he remembered more than a month after the killing because of amnesia brought on by the trauma of the shooting. He is serving a 6 1/2 -year sentence.

Last year, a legal battle erupted between John Ludwig and Brandy Snider, Karen Ludwig's daughter from a previous marriage. Snider, a single mother working at a convenience store in rural Pennsylvania, was seeking to be named Karen Ludwig's sole heir.

But John Ludwig's attorneys argued that he was entitled to Karen Ludwig's life insurance under Virginia's slayer statute. They were backed by the insurance company, Boston Mutual Life Insurance.

In May, a judge in federal court in Alexandria ruled in favor of Snider, who was represented in court by one of the partners in Petersen's Fairfax law firm. But the ruling was largely because of a technicality: U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris said that because Karen Ludwig got her insurance policy through her Pennsylvania-based employer, Pennsylvania law applied. In Pennsylvania, the slayer statute includes those convicted of manslaughter.

Petersen wants Virginia's statute to be as strict as Pennsylvania's. But some legal experts worry that language drafted by Petersen could be too broad.

At a state Senate subcommittee hearing Monday, J. Rodney Johnson, a retired law professor representing the Virginia Bar Association, warned that the law could have unintended consequences.

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