Keeping Body In Freezer Is Legal, Officials Say

July 15, 2009|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Anne Arundel County prosecutors said it is legal to not report a death and to put the body in a freezer - as was discovered in a Glen Burnie apartment over the weekend - leading legislators in the county's delegation to consider a new round of efforts to make it against the law.

On Friday night, police were called to an apartment in the 7400 block of Furnace Branch Road because the body of Doris Lea Cooke, 83, who had been ailing and bedridden for years, was in the freezer.

Police were told that the grandmother died several weeks ago in the apartment she shared with family members and that they stored her body in the freezer.

State law requires health care and other professionals to report a death. The legislature rebuffed efforts to have that requirement apply to individuals a decade ago.

"We are going to see if we can do something about it," said Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus, a lawmaker from Linthicum. "I am going to introduce it again."

Added Sen. James E. DeGrange of Glen Burnie: "It's certainly worth exploring again to see if it needs to be revived and needs to be addressed. We certainly will be taking a look at it."

The attempt to pass legislation 10 years ago came after a father buried his daughter in the woods in Severn, horrifying the community.

In 1999, Anne Arundel County prosecutors could find no law under which to prosecute 25-year-old Richard "Prince" Marshall, who led police to the place where he had secretly buried his 4-year-old daughter, Zaira, in a trash bag after she died accidentally eight months earlier.

"There was nothing at that point on the books that they could do with it, other than [a charge for] littering," Sophocleus said.

Similarly, there does not appear to be a law broken by storing Cooke's body in the freezer, said Kristin Fleckenstein, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office.

Police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said the investigation is continuing and detectives are awaiting results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

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