Soper's first bill goes down for the count

MATT SOPER legislator from Delta County

DENVER — Rep. Matt Soper thinks it should be a felony to tamper with or abuse a corpse under a bill he’s introduced that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Monday.

The Delta Republican said there have been numerous cases around the region that prompted him to propose the new law, not the least of which was the scandal that rocked Montrose recently over the now-defunct Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors.

That case began in 2018 when the FBI raided the funeral home, discovering that hundreds of families did not receive their actual loved one’s remains, in part, because their body parts were being sold off without their knowledge.

“Near my House district, there was an issue that occurred a couple of years ago called the Sunset Mesa atrocity,” Soper said. “This (bill) concerns things like selling off body parts, mutilating a body and necrophilia. Forty states currently have (laws) that are stronger than Colorado. This moves it up to a felony.”

Under Soper’s House Bill 1148, which requires a final House vote before heading to the Colorado Senate, anyone found guilty of tampering with a deceased human body could get a class 6 felony, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Currently, that crime is only a class 2 misdemeanor.

“It also says that you cannot be charged with both abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence,” Soper said of the bill. “The prosecution has to pick one theory or another.”

A year ago, a Montrose County judge awarded the maximum damages possible to a woman who sued Sunset Mesa owner Megan Hess for cutting up her brother’s body and selling his head, arms and legs instead of cremating him.

District Judge Mary Deganhart found that Hess acted maliciously and deliberately, and breached the contract in handling the final arrangements for Michael Good. The judge awarded Good’s sister, Julee Glynn of Durango, $468,010 for past and future emotional distress.

Soper said there have been other corpse abuse cases, including a recent one in Mesa County.

Last month, Timothy Russman was found guilty of tampering with evidence in the 2018 death and disappearance of Kyle Free. Russman was acquitted of six other charges related to Free’s death.

Original charges against him included abuse of a corpse and tampering with a deceased human body,

Also in 2018, a Delta woman was charged with concealing the death of her 82-year-old mother and abusing her corpse, which was discovered some time after she died.

Last year, the Legislature approved a new law also prompted by the Sunset Mesa incident. That law, introduced in part by Montrose Republicans Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Marc Catlin, made it unlawful to own an interest in a funeral home or crematory and also own an interest in a non-transplant tissue bank.