June 2, 2014

24-year sentence handed down in urn theft

A man who stole nine urns filled with human remains last year from a cemetery received a nearly 25-year prison sentence Monday.

A man who stole nine urns filled with human remains last year from a cemetery received a nearly 25-year prison sentence Monday.

Marc Reid, 55, was sentenced to 24 years, eight months in state prison by Judge Mark V. Bacciarini in Merced Superior Court. Co-defendant Richard Madsen, 68, who acted as the getaway driver, received a five-year prison term. Madsen apologized for his role in the theft and testified against Reid during a trial in May.

Reid and Madsen stole nine urns filled with the remains of 11 people on May 8, 2013, from Evergreen Funeral Home and Memorial Park in Merced. The remains were dumped into a trash can. The urns were ground up and sold as scrap metal to Velocity Recycling on Highway 59. The defendants used the money to buy drugs, primarily methamphetamine, Merced police said.

A Merced County jury convicted Reid on May 2 of 11 felony counts of unlawful removal of human remains, 11 counts of grand theft and a single count of vandalism. Madsen reached a plea agreement with prosecutors May 16, pleading guilty to stealing human remains. His theft and vandalism charges were dropped in exchange for the plea.

Before handing down the punishment, the judge told Reid the crime “just shocks the consciousness.”

Two men who lost the remains of loved ones in the theft spoke in court before sentencing.

Michael Pellicano’s grandparents, Thurman and Freda Whitaker, had been interred together. Pellicano expects to receive “a few pieces” of his grandparents’ urn now that the case is over, but said their remains have never been found.

“You stole what was a part of their souls, but they’ll never be forgotten,” Pellicano told Reid.

Outside the courtroom, Pellicano said: “Justice has been served.”

“The most disturbing part of (the arrest) was realizing these weren’t kids; the most shocking part was their age,” Pellicano said. “You’d think they’d have been raised in a different time and have respect, some fear of God.”

The remains of Ron Pirtle’s father, Wayne, were also lost in the theft. “I hope this sentence is a warning to anyone who would try to desecrate the dead and victimize the living,” Pirtle said.

Both men said they were grateful to Merced police Detective Paul Johnson, the lead investigator in the case, and to Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira, the prosecutor.

“This was devastating to those families,” Silveira said. “When you place your loved ones in the cemetery, there’s a sacred trust, a code of conduct in society that your loved one, your family, won’t be disturbed for all time and eternity, and that was certainly violated in this case.”

Reid’s attorney, Tom Pfeiff, said his client will likely appeal the case. Reid has maintained his innocence to authorities since his arrest last year.

“I know he’s disappointed with the sentence because he was very disappointed with the verdict,” Pfeiff said.

Madsen’s attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, called the judge’s five-year sentence of Madsen “thoughtful and fair.”

“Mr. Madsen has been very remorseful for what happened,” Tenenbaum said outside the courtroom.

During the hearing, Madsen spoke directly to the victims’ families, asking for forgiveness.

“I never meant to hurt anyone intentionally,” Madsen said. “I can only pray that you can forgive us.”

Madsen’s pleas were of little comfort to the victims.

“I’m sure he (apologized) to help himself sleep, to help himself when he’s alone at night,” Pirtle said. “But it doesn’t change the fact our loved ones are gone.”

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