LAFAYETTE, La. — On Thursday, house lawmakers will consider legislation to clarify the state’s cremation laws after KATC called into question a widespread practice by coroners in Louisiana.
In March, the KATC investigation Body of Evidence exposed that between 2013 and 2018, at least 895 cremation permits were issued for homicide victims. The permits were granted in 56 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes including nearly every parish in Acadiana.
As we reported, this practice could be a violation of state law. According to Louisiana Revised Statute 13:5716:
If the cremation of a body is requested, the funeral director shall immediately notify the coroner who has jurisdiction in the death. If, after the necessary investigation, the coroner is satisfied that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, he shall issue a permit for cremation. If the investigation reveals suspicious circumstances or the reasonable probability of the commission of a crime, the coroner shall deny the permit.
Since the issue is so widespread, KATC reached out to Dr. William “Beau” Clark, the president of the Louisiana State Coroner’s Association. Dr. Clark, who is also the coroner in East Baton Rouge parish, declined an interview but indicated he would be seeking an Attorney General’s opinion for clarity on the law.
“It is my intention as the President of the Louisiana State Coroner’s Association and the East Baton Rouge Coroner to get a directed attorney general’s opinion on this matter. Once, I have received this opinion and reviewed it, I will be happy to discuss this further.”
- E-mail from William “Beau” Clark, January 30, 2020
We published Body of Evidence more than a month after Clark’s statement. At the time, the Attorney General’s office had not received a request for an AG opinion from Dr. Clark.
Instead, Dr. Clark and the Coroners Association requested legislation to change the law.
Days after Body of Evidence aired, Dr. Clark wrote an e-mail to members of the coroners association, encouraging them to write to their lawmakers, encouraging them to “favorably support” legislation requested by the association.
In the e-mail obtained by KATC Investigates, Clark wrote:
There is news coverage generated out of Lafayette (link attached) that calls into question the practice of Louisiana Coroners across the state in allowing a family to select the disposition of their loved one following any crime related death. While we disagree that any of our offices have violated the law in authorizing cremations AFTER the completion of a comprehensive death investigation, the legal contradictions do imply the need for clarity.
On Thursday, the house will consider SB 137 filed by Sen. Franklin Foil, (R-Baton Rouge). The bill would allow cremation permits to be issued even if a person died under suspicious circumstances “after the coroner’s investigation is complete.”
“The coroner’s investigation is never infallible, which is what SB137 hinges on," said Kathryn Simpson who has been outspoken against allowing homicide victims to be cremated. Simpson's mother, Kimberly Womack, was found dead in her False River home in 2008. Simpson says she found out it was a homicide investigation two days after the coroner allowed Womack to be cremated.
"Without a body to independently examine, it is much easier for a killer to walk free. There is never a good reason to destroy any evidence in a homicide case, up to and especially including the body. I have deep concerns about the motivations of the officials fighting for the right to cremate these victims. SB137 does nothing to protect the public and is a re-victimization of all homicide victim."
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