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Woman Destroys Eight Gravestones ... and Doesn't Have to Restore Them

Anita Ross was driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs when she crashed her Mercedes SUV into a Kentucky cemetery, knocking down eight gravestones.  As a result of this crash, Ross was charged with a DUI and criminal mischief while hospitalized.  Under Kentucky law, violation of graves, to include damaging the headstone or footnote of a grave, is a Class D felony.  Ky. Stat. Ann .§ 525.115(1)(b).  Under Ky. Stat. Ann. § 525.115(4), "the court shall order the defendant to restore the cemetery to its pre-damage condition."

However, this statute requires that the violation be intentional.  Thus, as Kentucky law currently stands, Ross would likely not face any felony charges specifically related to the damage to the cemetery because she was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and intent would be difficult to prove in a court of law.  In fact, she has not been charged with violating graves, but instead faces the more general charge of criminal mischief.  This charge will account for her reckless damage to "any property," as opposed to any specific damage to the cemeteries.  Ky. Stat. Ann. § 512.020.  

Ross' recklessness brings to light the concern for the preservation of cemeteries and dead bodies.  While Kentucky law recognizes a heightened level of punishment for damage to gravestones in § 525.115, likely in keeping with societal deference and respect toward the dead, this statute is too narrow to bring Ross into its realm because of the "intent" requirement.  Should Kentucky consider lowering the standard under § 525.115 so Ross can also be found guilty under this statute?  While § 525.115 attempts to punish damage to gravestones, in this case Kentucky law is too narrow to properly punish Ross for her actions.  However, she destroyed eight gravestones, and mowed over several flowers.  Despite the damage, a court is not compelled to order her to "restore the cemetery to its pre-damage condition" because she has not been charged with violating graves felony.  In a case such as this, where the suspect has faced two previous DUIs and has caused damage to eight gravestones, Ross should have to contribute at least some aid to restore the cemetery. 

Jasmine Little



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