The Mystery of Senate Bill 129: Baltimore City Senator Introduces Bill To Stop Desecration of Human Remains

By Anjali Shastry

ANNAPOLIS—Was it grave robbing, cemetery vandalism or something more serious that inspired a bill to criminalize desecration of human remains?

“I think it has to do with a murder,” said state Senator Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore.

Gladden is sponsoring a bill that would make desecrating human remains a misdemeanor in Maryland after a constituent came to her about making this offense a crime, but the person and the story behind the bill remained a mystery Thursday.

The Baltimore woman was unable to attend a hearing Thursday of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill was introduced, and Gladden was unfamiliar with the details of the woman’s situation.

But she made it clear that desecrating a corpse or a cemetery is not a crime in Maryland.

“Did you know there’s no penalty against this right now?” Gladden said Thursday. “If I dropped dead on this floor right now, and someone came and chopped me up, nothing. The body gets desecrated.”

If convicted of desecrating a body or gravesite, the perpetrator would be subject to up to a $5,000 fine and three to five years behind bars.

Members of the committee seemed to react to the bill positively.

The only concern raised was from state Senator Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, who wondered whether cremated ashes sprinkled in the Chesapeake Bay would be considered desecration of a body.

Lisa Smith from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office testified in support of the bill and said sprinkling ashes would not be considered seriously from a prosecutorial standpoint.

“This was connected to a homicide, so anything to do with ashes, from a prosecutorial perspective, wouldn’t affect our cases or anything,” Smith said.

The bill, SB 129, would also punish anyone who “destroys, mutilates, defaces, injures, or removes any tomb, monument, or gravestone, or other structure,” with jail time and/or a fine.

Kathleen Kennedy, an analyst from the state’s Department of Legislative Services who researched the cost of the bill to the state, said she did not know the details behind the bill.

“It’s about making the family feel better, and we want to make it a crime because it’s not a crime,” said Gladden, who said her Baltimore office staff had connected with the constituent who inspired the bill.

Staff members at Gladden’s field office in the 41st district, were not available for comment Thursday.

The bill, if it becomes law, would prohibit a person from willfully damaging or destroying human remains, with doctors, scientists and mortuary workers exempted from being prosecuted.

Annapolis lawyer James J. Doyle, representing the state’s association of funeral directors, asked the committee to add “‘crematory operator’ to the list of those persons exempt from the bill in the performance of their duties.”

Donni Turner from the Office of Policy Development at the Department of Labor told Capital News Service the agency supported an amended bill. “We are interested in this legislation just to make sure that these penalties don’t apply to crematory operators.”

If human remains are removed from a cemetery, the penalties would be imprisonment for up to five years. If a cemetery is desecrated, the punishment would be up to two years of imprisonment. If human remains or “an associated funerary object” are transported illegally, then the penalties would be imprisonment for up to one year.

All these would be misdemeanors and carry a fine of up to $5,000.

As a former public defender in Baltimore, Gladden said, she heard of cases in which people desecrated a body by having sex with the corpse. But this did not factor into her decision to introduce the bill, she said.

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