Legal burial of girl, 4, stirs disbelief

Officials discover law allowed disposal of remains in woods

`As bizarre as it gets'

Severn father released pending autopsy on his daughter

August 25, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

The first discovery occurred Sunday morning when a father showed Anne Arundel police the wooded spot in Severn where he secretly buried his 4-year-old daughter in a garbage bag more than eight months ago.

Now officials are stunned by another discovery: The burial was legal.

"I still cannot believe this is true," Alice D. Ike, assistant attorney general for the state health department, said yesterday. "We have found nothing to indicate that there has been any law violated by what he [the father] says to have done."

Police were upset Sunday when the county state's attorney's office found no grounds for prosecuting the father, 25-year-old Richard "Prince" Marshall, resulting in his release pending completion of an autopsy.

The cause of death of his daughter, Zaira Marshall of Lakewood, N.J., remains in doubt. Authorities say toxicology tests on the remains might take several weeks to complete.

Marshall told police that he did not kill the girl, that she "accidentally died" while on a holiday visit. He did not report the death to anyone, and that also was legal, Ike said.

Doctors and other medical professionals are required to report deaths; parents are not.

Similarly, funeral homes and cemeteries come under regulatory scrutiny, but nothing in state law would prevent Marshall from disposing of his daughter's remains in the woods -- county-owned land, police said -- near Dorsey and WB&A roads.

"There is nothing illegal about burying your grandmother in the back yard," Ike said.

Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, said more regulations govern the disposal of human ashes than a backyard burial.

The attorney general's office and county prosecutors said they hope the legislature will look into the lack of a state law on the subject.

"People in this office feel very, very concerned about the fact we have no law to mandate disposing [of] a dead body," said Riggin. "This case is as bizarre as it gets."

Weathersbee has assigned a law clerk to scour Maryland law in search of any hint of illegality in Marshall's actions. Riggin said the office has been inundated with calls from people angry that charges could not be brought.

"We do not have a crime to charge this man with," Riggin said.

Zaira was reported missing to New Jersey authorities late last week by her mother, Odelle Morris, who said her daughter had not returned home from a Christmas holiday visit with Marshall, police said.

Anne Arundel police had no explanation for why it took the mother eight months to report Zaira missing. They have not been able to reach her since the girl's body was unearthed, police said.

The medical examiner's examination of the remains Monday was inconclusive. The bones did not appear to be broken, police sources said.

"This is a very unique situation," said Lt. Jeff Kelly, spokesman for the Anne Arundel Police Department. "We have a body and we do not know yet if we have a crime."

Yesterday, neighbors said they had seen Marshall piling belongings into a car. He is free to leave the state, county police said.

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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