Kent’s second trial involving abuse of corpse charges set for 2023
The trial of former funeral home operator Shannon Kent is set for Jan. 9, 2023, after a Lake County judge allowed him to receive court-appointed counsel. It’s the second trial for Kent, who was found not guilty in June along with his wife in a separate, but related, trial involving abuse of a corpse.
Kent did not qualify for court-appointed counsel at first, but Lake County Judge Catherine Cheroutes determined Kent was qualified upon further review, although she had some reservations.
Cheroutes said Kent was “not entirely forthright” about some aspects of his financial position.
“I asked for documents which I didn’t receive, which included some current tax return information,” Cheroutes said. Ultimately though, she determined Kent is qualified.
Prosecutors with the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the defense agreed early 2023 would work for a jury trial. The parties agreed to the weeks of Jan. 9 and Jan. 16 for an estimated nine-day jury trial in Clear Creek County.
Kent has pleaded not guilty to 14 charges, ranging from felony abuse of a corpse to a false information misdemeanor occurring between Dec. 10, 2019, and March 31, 2021.
The trial will return to Clear Creek County though it’s a Lake County case. Kent’s former role as the Lake County coroner raised concerns about fielding an impartial jury in Lake County. The parties involved worried too many jurors would know too much about Kent or the situation, and so the case moved to Clear Creek County.
The legal standard for abuse of a corpse charges includes language regarding acts that would “outrage normal family sensibilities,” as the law states. It’s unclear to prosecutors whether the act must spark outrage in the involved family or families in general, or what constitutes “outrage.”
A witness in June’s trial involving Kent used the term “outrage” to describe their reaction to seeing a decaying decedent’s body.
According to the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the entire 14 charges include four felonies for abuse of a corpse, one misdemeanor for abuse of corpse, two misdemeanors for unlawful cremations, one misdemeanor for official misconduct, two petty offenses for official misconduct, three misdemeanors for misreporting information and one misdemeanor for unlawful mortuary acts.
Unlike June’s trial involving one dead body, the Lake County case involves multiple remains found in Kent’s care. A mummified stillborn child and two bodies allegedly not embalmed were found by Lake County investigators in February 2021.
According to a state report, a woman arranged for the cremation of her stillborn child through a Bailey-Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum. The ashes returned to her had no name or attached paperwork and weighed more than she expected. Following forensic analysis, the state report says the cremains showed signs of both an infant and an older human.
Investigators from Lake and Eagle county conducted a search warrant on Oct. 2, 2020, of Kent’s Leadville funeral home. The state report describes them finding a sealed casket with dirt on the exterior containing the remains of a John Doe that had been exhumed by Colorado Department of Transportation; a small unmarked casket containing a stillborn infant that was “abandoned” according to the report’s respondent; a container of animal remains leaking fluids; and used body bags, medical gloves and other surgical equipment with dried bodily fluid on them piled on the floor in addition to dried bodily fluids on the metal preparation table and the floor, as well as bodily fluids leaking out of a blue body bag containing a decedent that was not refrigerated. Numerous bags of unlabeled cremains were also found, as well as several bodies in refrigeration wrapped in sheets or blankets without identifying tags or paperwork. Some paperwork was scattered several feet deep on the floor of what appeared to be the business office, according to the report.
Kent resigned as Lake County coroner on April 30, 2021, according to Lake County Commissioner Kayla Marcella.
Kent’s wife, Staci Kent, also faces three misdemeanor charges related to abuse of a corpse in Lake County, according to court records. Her next court appearance is Aug. 25.
While not guilty of any charges, the allegations against the Kents prompted a bill by Colorado lawmakers giving regulators expanded powers to inspect funeral home operations.
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