Kents found not guilty on all counts alleging abuse of corpse, tampering with deceased body

Staci and Shannon Kent stand outside the Clear Creek County Courthouse Tuesday, June 7, 2022 after a jury issued a not guilty verdict. The Kents formerly operated a Silverthorne funeral home.
Luke Vidic/Summit Daily News

A Clear Creek County jury found former funeral home owners Shannon and Staci Kent not guilty on all counts.

Victor Akubuo’s body was reported abandoned at Kents’ Silverthorne funeral home in February 2021. Subsequent investigation led to felony charges of abuse of corpse and tampering with a deceased human body filed against the Kents.

Akubuo died in a single motor vehicle crash July 30, 2020. His body was taken to the Park County Coroner’s Office for identification and an autopsy.

The coroner provided Akubuo’s only next-of-kin in the United States, uncle Michael Ofoegbu, with a list of nearby funeral homes. Ofoegbu selected the Bailey Kent Funeral Home in Silverthorne on Aug. 11.

The verdict comes after three attempts at the case were stifled by two mistrials.

“It’s nice to know the justice system prevailed,” Shannon Kent said after hearing the verdict. “At the same time we understand Mr. Ofoegbu and Mr. Akubuo’s family is going through a very difficult time, so we are sympathetic to them.”

The body was stored in the Kents’ funeral home and in a casket, the exact place embalmer Mark McGraw said he would expect an embalmed body to lie. Anthony Garcia reported the body abandoned after he took over the lease for the property.

“A far cry from abandonment,” Shannon Kent’s attorney John Scott argued.

“No one did any meaningful investigation in this case,” Scott added.

The defense routinely asked witnesses if they had been interviewed by Silverthorne Police or the District Attorney’s investigators as part of any investigation.

Thea Reiff said the Kents never had an alternative course of action. She added that had Garcia not called the District Attorney’s Office with his “false accusation,” the body still would have traveled the same path to Nigeria.

Decay, she added, was inevitable, and the Kents never tampered with the body, as supported by Silverthorne Detective Richard Watson’s analysis.

McGraw embalmed Akubuo’s body in August. He knew the body would be shipped to family in Nigeria and expected the body to sit for a couple months, so he utilized a higher index embalming fluid and additional moisturizers. But McGraw had no idea what the exact timeline would be, and, ultimately, the body would not reach Nigeria until Sep. 2021.

Ofoegbu expressed the family’s wish to have Akubuo’s body returned home to Nigeria. The Kents took responsibility for delivering Akubuo’s body to Nigeria in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kents contacted the Nigerian consulate and attempted to return the body but faced opposition from pandemic-era travel restrictions.

On Sep. 7, Ofoegbu heard from the Kents for the last time until February.

“They disappeared on me,” he told the courtroom.

The body was not returned to Nigeria by Dec. 1, 2020, when Shannon Kent lost his license to operate a funeral home. The Kents were in the process of exiting the funeral home industry in late fall and winter of 2021. Per a Department of Regulatory Agencies order, Shannon Kent could not operate in any capacity as a funeral home operator.

With the body still in their Silverthorne funeral home, the Kents attempted to sell their lease and business to Anthony “TJ” Garcia of Colorado Funeral Homes. Garcia was made aware of the body during business discussions with the Kents.

While Garcia took over the office lease Feb. 1, business negotiations between both parties fell through in the first weeks of Feb. 2021. Garcia no longer wished to purchase the Kents’ business — rather he wished to open his own funeral home business in the office space. He notified the Kents in early February via email.

He gave the Kents an ultimatum on Feb. 11 to remove the body of Akubuo by Feb. 18. If they did not, then he would consider it abandoned.

The Kents attempted to get Michael Greenwood of Greenwood and Myers Mortuary in Boulder to take charge of the body. They texted him Feb. 12.

Despite Garcia’s Feb. 18 deadline, he notified District Attorney Heidi McCollum the next day, Feb. 12, to say he believed there was an abandoned body in the office space. He told the courtroom he needed the body gone for the sake of his business.

The Silverthorne Police Department was notified of a possibly abandoned body on Feb. 13. Investigators from the police department arrived at the funeral home Feb. 16 to look for human remains. 

They opened the casket in the viewing room and described the smell as “musty” and “decayed.” The right hand was shriveled, while the left was “plump” and waxy. His body was in an industry standard unionall, and mold and unknown fluid had collected in the legs of the plastic body suit.

On that day, Staci Kent texted deputy coroner Amber Flenniken, first to ask for the body of Akubuo, then saying, “TJ turned us in to (Department of Regulatory Agency) and the (District Attorney).”

Greenwood arrived at the funeral home Feb. 16 after the Kents called him to collect the body, but it had already been returned to the Park County Coroner’s Office for identification.

The investigating coroner, Genevieve Ditlevson, considered the body improperly embalmed. She said it lacked firmness indicative of proper embalming fluid. Her finger went through to the bone when she prodded Akubuo’s leg.

After contacting Ofoegbu in February and getting familial permission, Greenwood took charge of Akubuo’s body. After many attempts to ship the body and being turned down by airlines, Greenwood at last shipped Akubuo home to Nigeria in Sep. 2021.

According to the verdict, the prosecutor’s office failed to prove the following standards beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tampering with a deceased human body requires that the defendant in Colorado at or about the date and place charged believed that an official proceeding was pending, in progress, or about to be instituted, and acting without legal right or authority, willfully, destroyed, mutilated, concealed, removed, or altered a human body, part of a human body, or human remains, with intent to impair its or their appearance or availability in the official proceedings.

Abuse of a corpse requires that the defendant in Colorado at or about the date and place charged, without statutory or court-ordered authority treated the body or remains of any person in a way that would outrage the normal family sensibilities.

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