SENATE BILL 524 MOVES FORWARD
AUSTIN – Tears flowed freely Monday as a group of Dallas-Fort Worth area women shared with members of the Texas House of Representatives’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee the pain and anguish of being tricked into paying for mortuary services that were never provided.
The heart-wrenching result of unscrupulous behavior by morticians and cemetery owners? Not being able to absolutely verify a loved one was buried. Being unable to gain closure. Effectively losing those loved ones a second time – and forever.
“I had to endure the pain of watching my own mother deteriorate day-by-day knowing that she will never be laid to rest next to her beloved husband’s side,” former Burleson resident Mary Hurst told the committee. “On May 7, 2006, she passed. I truly believe my loving mother died of a broken heart because what she was hospitalized for was not life threatening.”
On Monday – at the end of a extremely long day on Capitol Hill – the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted unanimously to pass Senate Bill 524. This is the proposed bill Hurst and the others are championing to change state law and make abuse of a corpse a state jail felony.
Currently, abuse of a corpse is a state misdemeanor and mandates up to six months in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.
But this proposal, also championed by State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would make the minimum penalty two years in state jail and up to $10,000 in fines for each count.
The proposed bill now goes to the full house and is expected to appear on the House Calendar by May 24.
If passed by the House, the measure goes to the desk of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed.
Hurst and her daughter, Lisa Lopez of Crowley, spent over 3.5 years and $50,000 searching for Hurst’s late father’s remains at the cemetery where he had been buried in Libertyville, Illinois. It was in 2005 that mother and daughter learned Hurst’s father was no longer in his resting place.
Hurst said they dug up 107 graves and were in and out of court multiple times – all along the way finding other bodies that had been buried incorrectly or not at all.
Hurst and her daughter wrote “Digging For Daddy” – the story of that devastating and unsuccessful quest to move Hurst’s father’s remains from Libertyville, Illinois to Mansfield.
On Monday, Hurst told House committee members, “I am here to fight for a bill that will appropriately punish those who continue to commit these heinous crimes for profit and personal gain so they can be brought to justice and get the punishment they deserve.”
Other Monday testimony from the group included:
• Felicia Braxton of Fort Worth – She and her family, like many others, used the mortuary services of Dondre Johnson and the Johnson Family Mortuary. Dondre Johnson was convicted of theft and abuse of a corpse after eight decomposing bodies were pulled from that mortuary.
Braxton received cremated remains she believed belonged to her mother. However, they were actually the remains of a Ms. Opal Anderson. Braxton returned the remains. In exchange, she received an empty box with her mother’s name, Aundrea Jones, and the number 1510272 on it. To this day, an empty box is all she has.
When Braxton stood before the committee Monday asking them to pass the bill, she said it would provide her with needed closure. She said she suffers trauma that prevents her from living a healthy life.
The bill “would stop other families from going through what my family … they would not have to endure the pain and the anguish and the mental distress,” Braxton said.
• Kia Davis of Dallas, who for over a year and a half incorrectly thought she buried her father at Arlington National Cemetery and visited him regularly. Davis later was told by a district attorney the remains in the grave were not her father’s. The DA handed over remains he claimed did belong to her father, but Davis has been unable to trust their validity and will not bury them.
• Michelle Jones-McEllhanon of Arlington, received her mother’s remains after first being given the remains of a young man.
The Monday hearing was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. but did not begin until after 6 p.m.
Members of Hurst’s group were visibly exhausted at the conclusion of the hearing. Hurst and members of her group gave one another more hugs and shed more tears as the group bond between them only tightened.
“What an amazing group of ladies,” Lisa Lopez wrote on Facebook Tuesday. “They have endured so much pain and injustice, yet found the strength to make their voices heard.”
SEE THE HEARING ONLINE: http://tlchouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=40&clip_id=14005