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Arkansas Funeral Home Owners Face Criminal Charges

The Associated Press reports that three men were arrested and charged this week following the discovery earlier this year of cadavers in a closed funeral home.  The owners of the funeral home, LeRoy Wood, age 86, and his son Ron Wood, age 61, were charged along with the general manager of the funeral home, Edward Snow. 

From the AP story:

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal charges, Snow and other employees "began placing bodies wherever they could find a space for them in room temperature. Bodies were stacked on top of one another, on pallets, on the washer and dryer and on every available space they could find. Coffee cans with deodorizer were placed next to bodies to help with the odor in the room."

Employees told police that the Woods refused to stop taking bodies despite the lack of space, according to the affidavit. The employees said there was an unusually high volume of death calls in January, but that the owners added to the back-up by refusing to perform services until they were paid in full.

According to the affidavit, the owners authorized services on some bodies once the investigation began. Investigators removed 31 bodies and 22 sets of cremated remains. The condition of 13 of those bodies was believed to qualify for charges of abuse of a corpse.

The State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors investigated after a former employee complained. The board's records show LeRoy Wood surrendered his funeral director license, his crematory license and his funeral establishment license after signing a consent agreement with the board in early February that also required him to pay a $10,000 fine and refund payments to families that had not received adequate services.

The Arkansas statute defining "abuse of a corpse" is based on Model Penal Code statute 250.10.  The statute reads:

(a) A person commits abuse of a corpse if, except as authorized by law, he or she knowingly:

(1) Disinters, removes, dissects, or mutilates a corpse; or
(2)(A) Physically mistreats or conceals a corpse in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities.
(B) A person who conceals a corpse in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities that results in the corpse remaining concealed is continuing in a course of conduct under § 5-1-109(e)(1)(B).
(C)(i) As used in this section, “in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities” means in a manner that is outside the normal practices of handling or disposing of a corpse.
(ii) “In a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities” includes without limitation the dismembering, submerging, or burning of a corpse.
 
(b) Abuse of a corpse is a Class C felony.
 
The statute includes broad language that would appear to address the treatment described by the AP story.  Although the defendants will surely argue the statute is unconstitutionally vague, The Supreme Court of Arkansas enforced the application of the statute in 1995 against a woman who disposed of the remains of her stillborn child in a dumpster.
 
[W]e cannot conclude that our statute is unconstitutionally vague, as it conveys fair and sufficient warning when measured by common understanding. Particularly, the words “physically” and “mistreats” are commonly understood. The word “physical” is defined as “of or relating to the body,” and the term “mistreat” as “to treat badly: abuse.” See Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 760, 887 (1988).

Dougan v. State, 322 Ark. 384, 392, 912 S.W.2d 400, 404 (1995).

In Arkansas, each Class C felony is punishable by a prison term no less than three years and no more than ten years. Each of the three men, if convicted on all 13 counts, therefore faces prison terms ranging from 39 to 130 years. Civil lawsuits are also apparently being filed by the kin of some of the deceased.

Tanya Marsh

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