Six months after authorities raided the New Orleans home of a self-styled witch accused of taking human bones from a local cemetery and offering to ship them to others online, state lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that outlines a legal framework and strengthened penalties for prosecuting grave robbers.
The Senate voted 31-0 Friday to the proposal by Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia. The measure now goes to the governor.
The House unanimously supported Senate Bill 179, which was described as an effort to curb the trafficking of human remains.
Supporters say grave robbing has become a popular trend. The looters, they say, often traffic the stolen remains through internet sales.
The state Attorney General’s Office in January raided a Mid City New Orleans house and recovered at least 11 bones and four teeth.
Ender Darling, a self-styled witch who lived there, had posted online about collecting human bones from a nearby “poor man’s graveyard” that wash up after it rains. The Facebook post, which has since been deleted, offered to ship “left over” specimens to interested parties.
Investigators believed the reference was to Holt Cemetery, the historic potter’s field on City Park Avenue, based in part on photographs Darling later shared privately with prospective customers.
State law already prohibits the removal of human remains from a cemetery.
If supported by the governor, violators of the provision in SB179 would face up to a $5,000 fine and one year in prison for the first offense. Each item of human remains would constitute a separate offense. A second offense would be punishable by two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The bill also allows the Attorney General’s office to seek civil action against those who violate the proposed measure.
Qualified museums, researchers and schools would be exempted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.