New York to bar murderous spouses from making funeral arrangements

Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:37pm EDT
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By Neale Gulley

BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - New York state closed a legal loophole on Thursday that had allowed people accused of murdering their spouses the sole rights to their victims' remains.

In a domestic violence bill signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a spouse charged with murder or one who was under a restraining order may no longer claim authority over what happens to the victim's body.

The law, which takes effect on November 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, she said Shepherd refused to make funeral arrangements, and invoices from the coroner's office, where the body was being kept, piled up, she said.

Eventually, Stephen Shepherd's attorney 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, she said.

"There was no closure for us. Absolutely none," O'Toole said, adding that visiting the site would be emotionally difficult.

Republican state Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, who sponsored the legislation after O'Toole approached him, pointed to other instances where the loophole had caused added grief for families.   Continued...