Senate endorses Padden measure upping penalty for unlawfully dumping human remains

Today the Senate voted 48-0 to pass Sen. Mike Padden’s bill to increase the penalty for unlawful disposal of a human body or human body parts.

“This was one of those times where the punishment just didn’t fit the crime,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Currently, someone who dismembers and destroys a human body to hide evidence of a crime is guilty of a misdemeanor – and the disposal of a human being is treated no differently that throwing away a scrap of paper or a piece of clothing.

“But for the family members of a victim, this disrespect of their loved one is the final assault – denying them the ability to even bury their dead with dignity and respect. To call that just another misdemeanor is yet another slap in the face and must be corrected.”

Under Substitute Senate Bill 6501, the penalty for the unlawful disposition of the body or body parts of a deceased person would be increased from a misdemeanor to an unranked class C felony.

The public hearing on the bill before Padden and other members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee earlier this month featured heart-wrenching testimony from victims’ families.

Jackie Forney testified, “My 39-year old daughter – Heather Higgins – went missing September 20, 2010, in Spokane. She is presumed murdered and her body has never been found.

“The prime suspect’s mother told police that her son admitted to her that while he did not kill Heather, that those who did made him dump her body.

“To this day, her body has never been found, and he has refused to cooperate. …I was stunned to hear that dumping my daughter’s body was just a misdemeanor,” she continued. “It’s clear to me that the law needs to change.”

Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell agreed.

“This is the kind of crime that shocks the conscience,” Haskell said, relaying an example of one mother who lost her son. “The persons who were responsible for his death tried to conceal the fact by dismembering his body. The mother told me that one of the hardest parts of the whole experience was that she was unable – because of the dismemberment— to say goodbye to her son.”

According to Haskell, SSB 6501 would also give prosecutors an additional tool to get answers for victims’ families.

“This bill is about common sense and basic human decency,” Padden added.