Share this article

print logo

Close this loophole; Husband who kills his wife gives up the right to decide where to bury her

This one seems like an easy call, but nothing in Albany, even the obvious, can be taken for granted.

One would think there would be full support for legislation closing a loophole that allowed a Town of Tonawanda man to decide where to bury his wife after nearly beheading her when he killed her in 2009.

The State Senate passed the bill, as it did last year, but it couldn't get through the Assembly. The Senate has made some amendments to make it more palatable in the Assembly, but there's no guarantee.

This sensible piece of legislation would block decisions over control of a body's remains by individuals who were subject to an order of protection at the time of death or had been arrested or charged in any action "causally related to the death of the decedent."

A court could waive the restriction if an "inappropriate delay" in disposing of the body was created. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger of Kenmore told a News reporter that the provision was added following Assembly concerns over cases in which a spouse is accused, but later found not guilty, in a murder case.

Fair enough, but what about when the spouse did it? Why should someone who is convicted or confesses to a murder get to decide on the disposal of the victim?

This is one of those tiny matters in law that no one notices until a problem arises. That is, a case such as the one involving relatives of Constance Shepherd, whose husband, Stephen, was sentenced to 21 years in prison in her death. Although some family objected, the husband was able to have his wife's remains buried in the Catskills.

Her relatives deemed the husband's actions "intentionally disrespectful," but there was nothing they could do. There were some -- coordinator of a Buffalo-area Buddhist group was quoted in a News story -- who said Constance Shepherd's husband " followed through on what she would have wanted."

Her family members were said to have wanted her buried in a Catholic cemetery.

Either way, the husband, originally charged with murder and who pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, shouldn't have had a say in the matter.

It's long past time to close this egregious loophole.