Tonawanda News

Local News

May 15, 2012

Bill aims to fix unjust law

Tonawanda News — When Constance Shepherd was brutally murdered in 2009, relatives of the Town of Tonawanda woman were horrified to learn that her husband, the man later convicted of her murder, was left to decide the fate of her remains.

On Monday, the state Senate approved for the second time a bill that would avoid a repeat of that scenario, this time with changes designed to help the would-be law’s chances in the Assembly, where it is still awaiting approval.

The legislation was again passed 59 to 1, this time including a clause allowing accused spouses to appeal their rights if they insist they were wrongly accused.

“This is a concern that (the Assembly) raised. It gives an out if someone wants to say that the should be able to access to the remains, this gives them an option to appeal to the court,” state Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, the bill’s lead sponsor, said.

The rest of the bill is unchanged, stipulating that those who have been arrested for the murder of their spouse, or who have an active order or protection against them, no longer have any say over what becomes of the body. 

“It doesn’t make sense that if you’re accused of murdering your spouse, you get control over their body and the funeral arrangements,” he said.

If passed in both houses, the new law would close a loophole in state health law that granted Stephen Shepherd — who pleaded guilty to the slaying and was sentenced in 2010 to 21 years in prison — sole rights to his victim’s remains.

“I think this is a very important piece of legislation,” Ranzenhofer said. “For the families who are affected by this it’s very, very important to bring justice and common sense to a system that has failed some families. Murderers not only take their loved ones but really kind of kill them a second time when they have control over the body.”

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