A Colorado Funeral Home Owner Convicted of Selling Body Parts Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison

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REUTERS/Mike Wood




Ex-Colorado funeral home owner, Megan Hess was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on Tuesday for dissecting 560 corpses and selling body parts without permission.

The 46-year-old pleaded guilty to fraud back in July. Hess ran a funeral home, Sunset Mesa, as well as a body parts entity, Donor Services, from the same building in Montrose, Colorado. The 20-year sentence is the maximum allowed under the law.

Shirley Koch, Hess’s 69-year-old mother, also pleaded guilty to fraud she was sentenced to 15 years. Koch’s primary role was chopping up the bodies, court records show.

“Hess and Koch used their funeral home at times to essentially steal bodies and body parts using fraudulent and forged donor forms,” prosecutor Tim Neff said in a court filing. “Hess and Koch’s conduct caused immense emotional pain for the families and next of kin.”

Prosecutors, in this case, stressed the “macabre nature” of Hess’ crime and described it as one of the most significant body parts cases in recent U.S. history.

“This is the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced on the bench,” U.S. District Judge Christine M. Arguello said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“It’s concerning to the court that defendant Hess refuses to assume any responsibility for her conduct.”

The judge ordered that both Hess and Koch be taken to prison immediately.

Hess’ lawyer said she has been unfairly vilified as a “witch,” a “monster” and a “ghoul,” when instead she is a “broken human being” whose conduct can be attributed to a traumatic brain injury at age 18.  In court, she declined to speak to the judge.

Koch apologized to the judge and accepted responsibility for her actions.

Twenty-six victims described their disgust at learning what had happened to their loved ones.

“Our sweet mother, they dismembered her,” Erin Smith said, selling her shoulders, knees, and feet for profit. “We don’t even have a name for a crime this heinous.”

Tina Shanon, whose mother was dismembered without consent, informed the court, “I’ve worn many masks to cover the pain. I’ll never be OK.”

It is illegal in the United States to sell organs such as hearts, kidneys, and tendons for transplant; they must be donated. However, selling body parts such as heads, arms, and spines which is what Hess did, for use in research or education is not regulated by federal law.

Prosecutors said that Hess defrauded family members by lying about cremations and by dismembering bodies and selling them without consent. The surgical-training companies and other firms which bought the arms, legs, heads, and torsos from Hess did not know they had been illegally obtained, prosecutors said.

Hess charged the families as much as  $1,000 for cremations that never took place. She also offered others free cremations in exchange for a body donation, said prosecutors.

Prosecutors said she deceived more than 200 families, they received cremated ashes from bins mixed with the remains of random cadavers.




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