Dan Clark: Jacqueline Franchetti lost her daughter Kyra's, about seven years ago. Before that, she was fighting for full custody of Kyra, saying her father, who was out of the picture, was violent and dangerous. A family court judge disagreed and allowed joint custody of Kyra between Jacqueline and the father. Then in 2016, Kyra was shot and killed by the father, who then took his own life.
Now Jacqueline is pushing a bill called Kyra's Law that she says could prevent future tragedies. Alexis Young has that story.
Jacqueline Franchetti: My two-year-old daughter, Kyra is one of 23 children to be murdered by their parent while going through a custody case, divorce, or separation in New York state since 2016. This number doesn't even take into account the staggering number of children who are court-ordered into the home of an abusive parent.
In every courthouse, in every county, children are being court-ordered into the home of a parent who is beating them, raping them, emotionally destroying, them at staggering rates, and the results are absolutely devastating. We need a judicial system, a court system that will protect our children, that will put their life and safety first. We need Kyra's law.
I want to walk you through my custody case because like many of you, I walked into Nassau County Family Court the first day thinking that they would protect Kyra.
From the very first moment, I was on defense, trying to protect myself and Kyra to keep her safe. I told the judge that I was being stalked, threatened, that I was a victim of domestic violence, and everyone knew from day one that he was suicidal. The judge's response… she yelled at me to grow up.
We had Child Protective Services involved in Kyra's case. They noted that he had extreme anger and rage issues, and an inability to care for her at a young age. They labeled it low risk.
We had a forensic evaluator, actually three in Kyra's case. They heard from eyewitnesses, saw documented evidence of the abuse, and in his report, he recommended joint custody because he said, quote-unquote, a father should always play a role in a child's life. In a healthy break-up, I agree with that. But in an abusive one, absolutely not.
Andrew Hevesi: This would be a very easy bill for me to come up here and start yelling and screaming and pointing fingers at judges. Simple, very easy. The public would understand. You have 23 dead kids. Kyra should be alive. There are reasons for us to be able to do that. But we're not. We are now going to be amending the current bill because we've had productive conversations with the Office of Court Administration (OCA).
I don't want to cast aspersions on them, but the system is gapped.
JF: My last memory of Kyra, she had just learned to roll down a hill. She took a couple of awkward tumbles down and she got up and said, I did it, Mama, I did it. She was so proud of her latest accomplishment.
Just a few days later, she was on a court-ordered visit with her abusive father. He shot her not once, but twice in the back while she slept. He then poured gasoline all over his home and he murdered her in a murder-suicide. Kyra’s murder was entirely preventable. She should never have been with him that day.
The murder of these 22 other children, also entirely preventable. We can end this with Kyra’s law.
AH: There's a real chance that before the end of the session, we will have a negotiated compromise, with OCA mostly on board. The fact that even now, in 2023 we're talking about the court having to look at the best interests of the child that we actually have to write into the law that the first thing is the life and safety. It's surprising that we have to do that.
JF: Kyra’s law does three things. First, it's going to make the life and safety of the child the top priority in a custody case.
James Skoufis: If there is domestic violence in that household, if there's child abuse allegations in that household, it's a hard stop. The judge, the court must stop and contemplate what to do with that.
Not, oh well, there are a bunch of factors here, you know, as the hearings play out over the next many months will consider those allegations.
JF: Second thing that this will do is it will mandate judge training.
JS: The court system and some judges, they're raising concerns. They don't have the time, and respectfully, I would argue, if you want to be a judge in New York state these issues are so important, you can afford to spend a few more hours. That's what we're talking about here. Not hundreds of hours, a few more hours, learning how to best respond to these types of cases.
JF: The third thing that Kyra’s law will do is stop common practices that allow abusers to gain custody at these staggering epidemic rates.
JS: The court would have a risk assessment form that they would have to develop and put a custody case through, because if they're on the record saying, okay, I don't believe this domestic violence allegation, I don't believe this child abuse allegation, and then they continue with joint custody or unsupervised visitation and something happens to that child. You better believe all the fingers are going to be pointing back at that judge.
JF: Kyra It didn't stand a chance, in New York's family court system. She should be nine years old in April. I see some of her friends and, you know, Kyra’s frozen in time for me at two years old. I see how much they've grown, and I'll never know what she wants to be when she grows up. I won't know her best friends are. At Christmas, people are gathering together, I'm at a gravesite.
Kyra deserved to live. She deserves so much more, and she deserved a judicial system that would protect her, not one that failed her.
DC: In a statement, a spokesperson for the state Office of Court Administration said, “Until there is a final version of the bill for us to review, we do not have any opinion on it at this point.”
There is a version of the bill publicly available, but it would likely change after negotiations. We’ll check back in with OCA if that happens.
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New York NOW
Kyra's Law: A Mother's Push for Change
Hear the story of Jacqueline Franchetti and her efforts to pass Kyra's Law in Albany.