Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

For the Love of Clare

Posted July 26, 2007 5:33 p.m. EDT

We would all like to think the law is cut and dry.  You break it, you go to prison.  But not all laws are that simple- especially when it comes to family court and issues involving the well-being of children.

This week the legal guardians of a seven-year-old girl came back to court to ask that the child be allowed to visit her mother, a convicted murderer, in prison.  In February the court ruled that it wasn't in the child's best interest to visit her mother, but that the guardians could come back and petition the court to change this agreement.  The guardians say that the child longs to see her mother and has become sad and withdrawn as a result of being denied.  The paternal grandparents oppose the visitation, and  with good reason.  The mother, Ann Miller Kontz, killed their son, Eric Miller, who is also the child's father.

It's an emotional drama unlike any that a family court anywhere in North Carolina has ever seen.  The legal guardians, who happen to be Ann Miller's sister and brother-in-law, have taken Clare Miller into her home and have raised her like one of their own.  They say she is treated and loved no differently than any of their three biological children.  To make their family more whole they have asked that the judge in addition to granting the prison visitation that he would allow them to add their last name to the child's so that she would be Clare Miller Wilson.  Again, the paternal grandparents oppose this move because they want their son's legacy to be preserved in his daughter's name.

The judge has now asked a trauma expert to asses the situation and make a recommendation- a wise choice considering it is almost impossible to detangle the competing interests of the two families who so desperately want what is best for this child.  In their hearts they are both right.  Unlike children who are neglected, this child is in the center of a battle between people who only want more of her.  Unlike children who are abused, this child has experienced nothing but love from both families even during difficult emotional times.

I don't envy either side for the burdens they have experienced in the loss of Eric and the painful knowledge that Ann killed him.  I don't envy them for having to make hard choices for Clare, all the while trying to keep self-interest out and her interest at the heart of the matter.  But I especially don't envy the judge for having to handle such a complicated case.

But when you take away the tragedy and you take away the complexity of the child's situation, what you're left with is a whole lot of people who love this little girl.  I have faith they will work it out.  There's no doubt she has a tough road ahead of her considering where she has been, but with so many people who love her I think she has a fighting chance.

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WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.