Archive for Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bill would make grave desecration a felony

February 7, 2008


— She has most of her son's ashes back, but she is seeking a little bit more justice.

Angela Bickham, of Winchester, testified Wednesday in favor of legislation that would make it a felony to desecrate a grave.

The cremated remains of her 17-year-old son, Justin Manning, who was killed in a vehicle crash, were stolen from a Bonner Springs cemetery in 2006.

"To lose that child twice is beyond words," Bickham told the House Judiciary Committee.

But because the remains and urn were worth less than $1,000, the crime was a misdemeanor, according to state Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, who is helping Bickham by pushing for the felony designation.

Tafanelli said home burglary is a felony and it seems reasonable to make theft of someone's remains a felony because of the emotional harm the crime causes survivors.

Bickham said she believed Justin's ashes had been robbed because she had denied requests of his friends to bury various objects, including a hat and CDs, with him. She said the robbers divided his ashes up among several people.

She said three people have been convicted in connection with the theft. One was a juvenile and received probation, while the other two were sentenced to one year in jail each and were incarcerated for 30 days and 33 days, respectively, before they were released on probation.

Bickham said she wants the crime to carry a felony designation because it will stay on a person's record and make it harder for that person find a job, plus disallow owning a firearm and joining the military.

"A felony conviction will follow a perpetrator for life," she said, adding that would be tougher than actual jail time.

The committee took no action but members said they will consider the bill later this session.

Bickham said police have recovered 95 percent of Justin's ashes, and that she plans to rebury him soon in an undisclosed location.


RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Marion, read up on NAGPRA. Any archaeological investigation involving human remains must follow the guidelines contained in NAGPRA.

"1) Obtaining or attempting to obtain unauthorized control of a dead body or remains of any human being or the coffin, urn or other article containing a dead body or remains of any human being"

Anyone conducting an archaeological investigation in a cemetery or at a place where there are known remains, whether prehistoric or historic, will need to be authorized by the KSHS to do so. Usually it will involve the branch of archaeology known as cultural resource management (CRM), or "salvage archaeology." The only reason an archaeologist would ever disturb a grave would be to salvage it. Occasionally they are found unexpectedly in research excavations.

Those jerks out there bashing headstones are the ones who are unauthorized. So are relic hunters who disturb graves simply for the artifacts they contain (NAGPRA also covers those). My ancestors settled in Linn County in the late 1850's and are buried in a cemetery there. Someone came in at one point and damaged many of the headstones. One of my uncles repaired the ones belonging to our ancestors. Just makes me sick. I say give them a felony for it.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

One caveat with regard to grave goods: they are only covered under NAGPRA when federal funds are being received. So vandals and relic hunters are not covered. This act would cover that activity.

justthefacts 10 years, 2 months ago

NAGPRA was passed largely to protect the remains of native Americans (thus the name - Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act - see and does NOT cover graves in known cemetaries etc. In 1989, Kansas passed a similar bill (in connection with closing the "Salina Burial Pit" tourist attraction) intended to plug up holes in grave descretion laws that had left unprotected these types of unmarked burial sites. See .

I am not sure why the state needs a new law on this topic. Just beef up the one that exists: It is already a crime to descretate graves - see below K.S.A. 21-4111 21-4111. This is ALREADY a state law. So all that is really needed to address this woman's issues is the removal of the dollar limits for damages and turning the first paragraph from a misdomeanor to a felony crime (note: the fact that juveniles were involved only further complicates charging them.......) :

Criminal desecration. (a) Criminal desecration is: (1) Obtaining or attempting to obtain unauthorized control of a dead body or remains of any human being or the coffin, urn or other article containing a dead body or remains of any human being; (2) by means other than by fire or explosive: (A) Damaging, defacing or destroying the flag, ensign or other symbol of the United States or this state in which another has a property interest without the consent of such other person; (B) damaging, defacing or destroying any public monument or structure; (C) damaging, defacing or destroying any tomb, monument, memorial, marker, grave, vault, crypt gate, tree, shrub, plant or any other property in a cemetery; or (D) damaging, defacing or destroying any place of worship. (b) (1) Criminal desecration as described in subsections (a)(2)(B), (a)(2)(C) and (a)(2)(D) is: (A) A severity level 7, nonperson felony if the property is damaged to the extent of $25,000 or more; (B) a severity level 9, nonperson felony if the property is damaged to the extent of at least $1,000 but less than $25,000; and (C) a class A nonperson misdemeanor if the property is damaged to the extent of less than $1,000. (2) Criminal desecration as described in subsections (a)(1) and (a)(2)(A) is a class A nonperson misdemeanor. History: L. 1969, ch. 180, § 21-4111; L. 1971, ch. 109, § 2; L. 1992, ch. 298, § 66; L. 1993, ch. 291, § 144; L. 1994, ch. 291, § 39; L. 2006, ch. 194, § 25; May 25.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Actually, NAGPRA does not cover a private landowner excavating on their own land, since no federal funds are involved. Even if an entity, lets say a construction contractor contracted by the state (states receive federal funds), runs across a grave while fulfilling the contract, they are required by law to report it. A relic hunter is the same as a looter, which is a person who simply wants cool artifacts to look at or sell. They don't give a hang about the grave or what the grave goods can tell us about the person and that person's way of life.

This new law effectively covers looting and relic-hunting when graves are involved. My father has been an artifact collector since before I was born, but he never digs and has never disturbed a grave. There is nothing illegal about that, as long as it isn't done on public lands. Anyone doing this on public lands is already in violation, but on private land, there really is no law protecting graves prior to this. Granted, there will be people out there who think it is an invasion of their privacy and right to private property, but I'm sure you wouldn't want your ancestor's graves dug up for things like your great-grandmother's wedding ring. Just because a grave is Native American doesn't make it any different.

As for archaeologists doing legitimate archaeology with all of the requisite permits and approvals, I'm afraid that this law marks no change whatsoever.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Now that I think about it, perhaps there should be some sort of clause for farmers who accidentally drag a farm implement through a grave. Maybe an indication of intentionality should be incorporated into the law.

justthefacts 10 years, 2 months ago

There does not need to be an exception for farmers who accidently dig up an umarked burial. The rules of criminal procedures (burden of proof issues) will require some proof of intention. Not knowing it was there, and not continuing to dig it up after you see a skeleton sticking out, will protect against prosecutions. All that is then needed is for that person to (a) re-bury the body or (b) if they want to keep digging (and they usually do), they need to contact (1) the county sheriff/coroner (so they can rule out foul play - some skeletons mean someone was killed and dumped) and (2) if no foul play, the Umarked Burial Board can grant approval and help with getting it removed to a safer place, so there can be an attempt to locate next of kin and/or reburial somewhere safe.

This often comes up when a road crew is digging and finds bodies, or a creek bed washes away remains.

The unmarked burial board and laws were set up in Kansas (and elsewhere) b/c in the past (prior to 1989 in KS) people could dig up Native American graves, and haul home skulls for desk decorations, but were prosecuted for grave robbing if they did the same thing to the bodies found in a "regular" cemetery.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

I think a lot of people don't report sites already for fear of prosecution or loss of land rights. There tends to be a lack of information out there, especially in eastern Kansas, with regard to archaeological sites and private property. Even if you register a site on your land with the KSHS, there is no law saying that you have reliquished any rights to your land. Unless you get the Soil Conservation service to put in terraces in your field (in which case the state would want to try to salvage what might be lost), you have complete and total control over it. I am an archaeologist myself, and I've run into this quite a bit. Perhaps if the law is passed, the language should be more specific as to prevent any arbitrariness in what situations fall within it. As an archaeologist, it makes me crazy that people just badger into sites for the mere sake of finding artifacts. So many important sites have been lost this way. Perhaps the law in its current state is well-intentioned, but not particularly well thought out.

justthefacts 10 years, 2 months ago

NOTE: Kansas law already impacts private property owners who may find bones on their land. See K.S.A. 75-2741 through 75-2753 at It was intended to prevent people from digging up graves - on purpose - or to provide a procedure for handling discovered remains that are not in a marked burial site. Period. Digging up artifacts is not covered by this law (but if you happen to run into human remains, you may have found a murder victim or someone's grandma - no way to know, until you call the proper authorities! No one loses their land. They might have to turn over the body/remains, but you cannot own human bodies or remains.

AND the illegality of intentionally desecrating a grave (found in a marked burial) is law already (but this proposal would "tweak" it a bit). See K.S.A. 21-4111. It's been the law for quite some time.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Marion: State Historian or State Archaeologist Bob Hoard? Bob's a really good guy. It's a shame that village site was lost. I hope it got documented to some degree before it was destroyed.

justthefacts 10 years, 2 months ago

Bob Hoard is indeed the state archeologist with the Kansas State Historical Society. And the chair of the state's unmarked burial board. He's very knowledgable about these laws/matters.

The issue this news article is about, however, is the current law concerning desecration of known burial sites. The woman in question wants to see the particular actions that took place turned into a felony. Current law makes it a misdomeanor in most cases b/c the property damage done is often under $1000 in value.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 10 years, 2 months ago

Don't you know, the legislature has to dream up more laws to justify it's existence. Even if they have a law, they add or change a couple of words and make another law. Then when they raise their pay, they can say look at all the laws we are making up. Vote for Ron Paul. The entire system has an incurable disease that no known antibiotic can help. It is called taxitis. All these people know how to do is raise our taxes, and make up more idiotic laws telling us how to live our lives. Thank you, Lynn

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