Wednesday marks four years since the tragic death of Scott Patrick Wilson, the 23-year-old victim in the John Goodman DUI manslaughter case. But he still has not been put in his final resting place because his parents are arguing over what to do with his cremated remains.
The dispute could come closer to an end on April 8, when the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach will hear arguments in the case over legal action between Wilson's divorced parents over his ashes. Because of the long court fight, Wilson's remains have been stored in an urn locked in the office of the Palms West funeral home in Royal Palm Beach.
"Because Scott has not been buried, his family has not been able to achieve closure," wrote attorneys Kristina Pett and Amy Beller of Boca Raton, in a pleading in March for Lili Wilson. "The effect of the continuing dispute over Scott's remains is that his family members continue to have to relive the tragedy of his untimely death."
The father, William Wilson wants to take half of the ashes and bury them in a family plot in Blue Ridge, Ga., claiming he has the right under Florida law to this "property" that can be split like other assets. Scott Wilson's name is already inscribed on a tombstone there.
The mother, Lili Wilson, wants to keep the ashes whole and bury them in Palm Beach County where her son was born and raised. She objects to splitting the remains "as if it were a bank account."
Wilson was remembered by mourners at his funeral as a good-natured sports fanatic and recent engineering graduate from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He was on his way home to Wellington late one night for a weekend to celebrate his sister Kristi's 19th birthday.
At about 1 a.m. Feb. 12, 2010, Goodman, founder of International Polo Club Palm Beach, was speeding in his Bentley convertible, according to trial evidence. He ran a stop sign and smashed into Wilson's Hyundai Sonata at the intersection of 120th Avenue and Lake Worth Road in Wellington. Wilson's car was pushed into a canal, where he drowned.
In March 2012, a jury convicted Goodman of driving drunk and causing Wilson's death, rejecting the defense claims that the Bentley malfunctioned and Goodman drank liquor in a "man cave" after the crash. Goodman, heir to a Texas air conditioning and heating fortune, was later sentenced to 16 years in prison.
But all that changed because of misconduct by juror Dennis DeMartin. The 70-year-old Delray Beach retiree was convicted last month of two criminal contempt charges. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath blamed DeMartin for "derailing what was otherwise a lawful conviction" and causing the victim's family "emotional upheaval."
Goodman, 50, a wealthy polo executive, was awarded a new trial and hired new attorneys who have been fighting on several fronts as his retrial is set to start next month in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. The defense wants the charges tossed because prosecutors gave both the Bentley and the Hyundai to their respective insurance companies a month after the first jury verdict, despite all indications that the case would be appealed.
Goodman also wants the pending trial moved out of Palm Beach County because of claims that unrelenting bad publicity has tainted the pool of prospective jurors and he can't get a fair trial.
According to court papers, Goodman settled a civil lawsuit with Wilson's parents around the time of Goodman's criminal trial in March 2012, and they evenly split $46 million, before attorney fees.
In September 2012, William Wilson filed a petition in circuit court asking for half of his son's ashes, but Lili Wilson objected, citing moral and religious reasons, as well as legal arguments.
At a February 2013 hearing, Circuit Judge Martin Colin told Lili and William Wilson to limit the dispute to legal issues. He denied William Wilson's request on the grounds that the ashes are not property rights able to be partitioned.
Colin gave the parents another 30 days to sort it out, or face the prospect of a curator to make the call. But two weeks later William Wilson filed his notice of appeal.
Appellate court records show that the Wilsons have not budged on their positions. The upcoming oral arguments before a panel of three judges were scheduled at William Wilson's request.
None of the attorneys involved in the case answered requests for comment despite requests by telephone and email. But the pleadings highlight the key argument, which is whether the remains can be split under Florida law.
"When it is the possession of ashes at issue" ... the ashes "are property," William Wilson's attorney, Joy Bartmon, of Boca Raton, wrote in an October brief.
But Lili Wilson's attorneys say the appeal is "meritless" based on previous court decisions and state law.
"Indeed, Florida cases unequivocally hold that a decedent's cremated remains are not property and the beneficiaries cannot possibly have property rights to such remains," Pett and Beller wrote.
In another court filing, the attorneys observed, "It is not in Scott's or his family's best interests to continue to have the family he loved litigating in court."
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