Just three 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 are considering legislation that would strengthen penalties against those who try to trade in human remains.
“It’s a shame that people even stoop to this level,” state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said during a Senate Judiciary C Committee meeting on the proposed “Louisiana Human Remains Protection and Control Act” on Tuesday.
Ryan Seidmann, an anthropologist and Assistant Attorney General, said the cases targeted by the proposal aren’t typically the result of homicide or violent crimes.
“It’s usually cemetery desecration,” he said.
The Advocate reported last week that agents with the state Attorney General’s Office raided a house in New Orleans 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.
State law already prohibits the removal of human remains from a cemetery.
But officials said that specifically outlining the crime and punishment in the proposed Senate Bill 179 would cement the law and provide clarity.
“It’s nothing that imposes any new obligations,” Seidmann said. “It just enshrines what we are doing.”
The committee unanimously agreed to the bill, which seeks to define the illegal trade and possession of human remains. Under the proposal, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration and also needs approval in the House, a first-offense violation would be punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a year in prison. 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.