When the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors walked into Tate Funeral Service of Toledo, they discovered dryer sheets in the air vents. The dryer sheets were apparently intended to mask the overwhelming smell of decomposing bodies. They didn't work. Further investigations of Tate Funeral Service revealed 11 corpses. These corpses were found in strange places such as the chapel, the garage, and an non-functional embalming room. The cadavers had been decomposing at Tate for periods ranging from a couple of days to a couple of months. Family members were understandably infuriated and filed civil claims. The licenses for Robert Tate and Tate Funeral Service were suspended. Tate has been criminally charged with abuse of corpse.
Robert Tate’s attorney, Derek Farmer, argues that the abuse of corpse charges should be dropped because his client had “no criminal intent." But is criminal intent required? It appears that the answer is no.
Ohio law defines two different crimes. Abuse of a corpse, a misdemeanor of the second degree occurs when a person violates the following: “no person, except as authorized by law, shall treat a human corpse in a way that the person knows would outrage reasonable family sensibilities.” Gross abuse of a corpse, a felony of the fifth degree, occurs when a person violates the following: “no person, except as authorized by law, shall treat a human corpse in a way that the person knows would outrage reasonable community sensibilities.”
Committee Comments to the bill that established the statute explain that:
"This section prohibits treating a human corpse in a way the offender knows would produce righteous and reasonable outrage among members of the family. It covers conduct formerly prohibited by specific prohibitions against grave robbing and unlawful dissection of a corpse. It also includes other kinds of conduct, such as copulating with or otherwise mistreating a corpse. The section does not include conduct authorized by law, such as a mandatory autopsy or the exhumation of a dead body on court order."
It is beyond obvious that the situation at Tate Funeral Service triggered family outrage that objectively seems reasonable and righteous. However, do Robert Tate's actions rise to the level of "gross abuse of corpse"? In State v. Hopfer, the defendant argued that the statute was unconstitutionally vague. The Court of Appeals of Ohio disagreed, holding that "As the court in Glover recognized, the term 'reasonable community sensibilities' is one 'understood by persons of common intelligence,' and a trier of fact could reasonably apply such a standard based upon contemporary community mores." The 11 corpses “chilling” at Tate Funeral Service for weeks seems like it definitely violates community norms.
Robert Tate is likely guilty of abuse of corpse, in addition, he appears to have violated Ohio law regarding the timeliness of cremation. It seems very unlikely that Robert Tate will ever practice funeral service again.