Killer spouses lose right to corpse
BUFFALO — New York has closed a legal loophole that allowed people accused of murdering their spouses the sole rights to their victims' remains.
In a domestic violence bill signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a spouse charged with murder or one who was under a restraining order no longer can claim authority over what happens to the victim's body.
The law, which takes effect Nov. 24, addresses situations such as that of Constance Shepherd, who was murdered in 2009. Her husband, Stephen Shepherd, who was later convicted of her killing, was left to decide what would become of her remains.
“It was a travesty. He abused her during her life and continued to abuse her even in death,” said Elaine O'Toole, the slain woman's cousin.
For months after his trial, Shepherd refused to make funeral arrangements. Invoices from the coroner's office, where the body was being kept, piled up, O'Toole said.
Stephen Shepherd's attorney eventually was granted control of the body and opted to bury her ashes in the Adirondack Mountains, near one of Stephen Shepherd's favorite fishing spots.
“There was no closure for us — absolutely none,” O'Toole said, adding that visiting the site would be emotionally difficult.
State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, who sponsored the legislation after O'Toole approached him, pointed to other instances in which the loophole has caused grief for families.
Another case was the 2009 beheading of Aasiya Hassan in Orchard Park, N.Y., by her husband Muzzammil Hassan. It occurred in the cable-television studio that the couple founded to promote understanding of his Muslim culture.
Hassan was found guilty of her murder, which occurred six days after she filed for divorce.
“It just doesn't make sense that if you're accused of murdering your spouse that you get control over their body and funeral arrangements,” Ranzenhofer said. “It's outrageous when you really think about it.”
The law includes a provision to allow judges to consider what danger that domestic abusers might pose to their spouses when considering whether to grant bail. Judges previously were limited to determining a suspect's flight risk.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Cole outduels Mets rookie, carries Pirates to victory
- Olympic swimmer Schmitt, a Ross native, owns her struggles
- Lowly job likely awaits former Pittsburgh police chief after prison
- Hempfield pair caught in vehicle scam
- PennDOT puts final touches on Route 28 construction
- Pirates’ McCutchen laughs off pay stub leak
- Woman operating scooter struck by freight train dies in Coraopolis
- Connellsville building owner uses graffiti to point out unsightly demolition debris
- Pirates notebook: Stewart, Cole develop rapport
- North Fayette man dies in 2-vehicle accident in Washington County
- Trooper fatally shoots burglary suspect inside Somerset Twp. grocery store