An untold death

Child's burial: Legislature must close loophole that allowed man to not report he interred daughter.

August 30, 1999

BY A bizarre quirk in Maryland statutes -- one the legislature needs to rectify -- individuals don't have to report deaths to the state health department.

This anomaly came to light recently when the Anne Arundel County state's attorney could not press charges against Richard "Prince" Marshall, 25, for failing to report the death of his 4-year-old daughter eight months ago or his burial of her in county woods.

The father might only be liable for a misdemeanor for dumping on public property, as he would be if he left behind mere garbage. State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee said he doesn't plan to pursue that charge, reasoning that it would "trivialize" Zaira Marshall's death. An investigation into the cause of death is continuing.

By state law, physicians and morticians must report deaths. Relatives and acquaintances do not, at least according to the attorney general's interpretation of state law. The failure of Baltimore County residents Ronald G. and Patricia F. Thomas a few years ago to report the death of their housemate Marian V. Cusimano -- the body remained in their Essex house for more than a year -- was also deemed legal.

Under most circumstances, family members find it in their interest to report the death of a loved one. But sometimes there is no incentive to report a death, especially when benefits such as pension or Social Security would cease. By not reporting Ms. Cusimano's death, for example, Mrs. Thomas was able to fraudulently collect more than $24,000. She was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

In the more recent case, Mr. Marshall did not summon emergency help after Zaira's death, so no physician examined her and no report was filed.

No one should be able to bury someone without official notice. The General Assembly must fix this incongruity.

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