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"Body Snatching" in Texas

Challenging Ohio's Vague Abuse of Corpse Statute

On August 15, 2015, Kyle Starkey beat his girlfriend so brutally that she died at their shared home in Ashtubula, Ohio.  With the help of his friend, Ryan McBride, who also witnessed this vicious murder, Starkey stashed his girlfriend’s dead body inside a closet and kept it hidden there for several days.  After partying away the weekend, the two men returned to the house, removed the body from the closet, and buried it in a shallow grave nearby.  Autopsy reports show the cause of death to be blunt force trauma, and suggest that the body was not buried until August 18, 2015.

In addition to Starkey’s murder indictment, both men were charged with “gross abuse of a corpse,” a felony of the fifth degree under Ohio Law.  The statute provides that, “No person, except as authorized by law, shall treat a human corpse in a way that would outrage reasonable community sensibilities.”

One glaring issue with this statute, in my opinion, is that it uses the vague standard of “reasonable community sensibilities” when deciding what types of behaviors sufficiently constitute abuse of a corpse.  In fact, in State v. Condon, the defendant argued Ohio’s “abuse of a corpse” statute was impermissibly vague, but the court rejected this argument.  The court “reasoned” that:

“Community mores concerning the proper treatment of a corpse are not, in our view, esoteric or otherwise difficult to discern.  Irrespective of one's religious views, and even if one is an atheist or an agnostic, it is almost universally understood that the bodies of the dead are to be treated with the utmost respect.”

The court even goes as far as saying, “there is in human beings an ingrained sense that the dead are not to be trifled with.”  I would venture to say there are a number of reasonable individuals in the scientific community that would respectfully disagree with the court’s sweeping assertions about humanity and its Euro-centric worldview.

Rather than engage in a philosophical dispute from the bench, Ohio would be better served in adopting a law modeled from the New Jersey Statutes.  In New Jersey, any person who “unlawfully disturbs, moves, or conceals human remains” may be charged criminally with “Abuse of a Corpse.”  Without a doubt, concealing a dead body in a closet for a few days would fall under the umbrella of this straightforward statute.   

Katie McAbee


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