Dismembering a human body is a sickening, heinous act. It boggles the mind when one tries to understand how a person can commit such an act against another human being.
A Gallia County man, Richard Hurt, 47, of Gallipolis, is accused of committing such an act in late July to a fellow Gallia Countian, Jessica Berry, 32 at the time, after she allegedly overdosed on drugs at a home near Gallipolis. He is also accused of transporting those remains across state lines into Mason County, W.Va., and burying them – after allegedly carrying said remains in his vehicle for about a day and half – at a home where he once performed yard work.
Court records allege he took the woman’s clothing and a saw used to carry out the gruesome deed and discarded them in a trash receptacle, where it was then hauled off to a landfill, presumably lost and gone forever in mountains of other discarded waste.
Berry remains were left contained in trash bags in a shallow hole in the ground, like discarded waste never to be thought of again.
That was a miscalculation. She is being thought of again — most certainly by her family and friends, as well as the entire Gallia County community and tri-county area, where familial ties and close friendships run deep and strong.
The community is upset. This type of act is better known to occur in larger urban populations, not here in the Ohio Valley. But it did happen here, and Berry’s family and friends want justice to be served.
At his arraignment Tuesday, Hurt pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence — fifth- and third-degree felonies, respectively. Judge Dean Evans, based on the degrees of the aforementioned felonies, denied Gallia County Prosecutor Jeff Adkins’ request for a $500,000 10 percent bond and lowered it to a $50,000 10 percent.
Hurt later made bail and is free on bond until his trial date next year, unless lab, toxicology and autopsy report data warrant further charges. Those won’t come in until the West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office completes those reports. Because the discovery was made on the other side of the Ohio River, West Virginia took custody of the remains.
It should be noted that Hurt is also charged in West Virginia with felony concealment of a human body in connection with the Ohio case.
Lowering bond for such a disgusting act is perplexing, to be sure, but the attorneys, judges and others connected to the case did exactly as they should. The defense attorney asked for a lower bond, the prosecuting attorney asked for a much higher bond, the judge denied the prosecutor’s request and settled on a lower bond based on the severity of those charges.
Dismembering and burying a human body isn’t severe, you ask? We believe so, but according to the Ohio Revised Code, it’s abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. The judge’s decision was based upon only what the law allows him to do. It’s not — and cannot ever be — based on emotion or one’s personal feelings about the deed.
And let’s remember, people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law — not on social media, not in the media or any public forum.
The judicial system works, but needs a major tweak in Ohio.
Dismemberment of a human body deserves a much stronger penalty than fifth-degree felony abuse of a corpse. It is vague, at best. As currently written, ORC 2927.01 refers to it in two divisions, one of which is a second-degree misdemeanor and the other a fifth-degree felony. The only difference is the wording.
- Misdemeanor: No person, except as authorized by law, shall treat a human corpse in a way that the person knows would outrage reasonable family sensibilities.
- Felony: No person, except as authorized by law, shall treat a human corpse in a way that would outrage reasonable community sensibilities.
Doesn’t dismemberment of a human body outrage everyone’s reasonable sensibilities?
In Illinois, dismembering a human body is a Felony X charge, the most serious offense classification in that state where, “Regardless of how long the individual had been deceased or the relationship of the perpetrator to the individual, it is strictly forbidden to ‘sever, separate, dissect, or mutilate’ any part of a deceased person’s body.” The penalty, if convicted there, includes mandatory minimum sentences of 6-30 years in prison and no possibility of probation.
We urge Ohio lawmakers to consider taking ORC 2927.01 Abuse of a Corpse under further advisement and revision to make for stronger penalties associated with such a heinous act. Further, we urge lawmakers to consider creating a law — Jessica Berry’s Law, let’s say — specifically for human body dismemberment that includes wording similar to Illinois’ law.
Jessica Berry’s memory deserves it.