Merced man pleads guilty in urn theft case

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comMay 16, 2014 

A Merced man pleaded guilty Friday to stealing nine urns filled with human remains from a city cemetery last year.

Richard Madsen, 68, admitted his role in the theft of the urns, which contained the remains of 11 people. The urns were taken March 8, 2013, from Evergreen Funeral Home and Memorial Park. Investigators said the urns were cut or ground up and sold as scrap metal to Velocity Recycling on Highway 59.

Prosecutors said Madsen was the getaway driver during the theft. Police said the theft was orchestrated by co-defendant Marc Reid, who was found guilty on May 2 by a Merced County Superior Court jury after a trial. Reid faces about 18 years in state prison for smashing through the glass case and removing the urns.

On Friday, Judge Mark V. Bacciarini ordered Madsen to return to court June 2 for sentencing. The judge said he believed Madsen would likely be sentenced to state prison for about five years for his role as the driver and helping sell the urns for scrap.

Charges of vandalism and grand theft against Madsen are expected to be dismissed during his sentencing hearing, attorneys said.

Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira, the prosecutor in the case, said the victim’s families spoke with authorities before Friday’s court appearance and were supportive of Madsen’s deal.

“I think it’s an appropriate sentence for Mr. Madsen, given his level of involvement,” Silveira said. “Mr. Madsen took responsibility for his involvement.”

Madsen’s attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, said his client regrets his role in the theft.

“He’s been remorseful since the very beginning,” Tenenbaum said. “He testified against during the co-defendant’s jury trial and has tried to do what he can to make things right.”

Madsen received no promises of leniency in exchange for his testimony, attorneys on both sides of the case said.

Madsen said Reid promised him a gram of speed in exchange for helping him pick up some “recycles.” He said he only realized later that the “recycles” were urns filled with human remains.

Reid stashed the urns just outside the cemetery before they picked them up together, according to Madsen’s trial testimony.

Madsen testified that the theft of human remains bothered him later and said his mother’s remains are kept in an urn. “Sacrilegious, I think you’d call it. I didn’t feel right about it.”

However, Madsen’s story changed several times over the course of the investigation.

Madsen first told police in a recorded interview that he cut the urns up after the recycling company refused to accept them the first time. During the trial, Madsen denied ever selling the urns and said, although it was his voice on the recording, he had no memory of confessing.

Both men remain in custody at the Merced County Jail.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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