Tampering with a dead body could earn a suspect up to 12 years in jail and a fine of up to $750,000, under a bill amended by the state Senate this week.
The bill won’t help some of the people who seek justice for their loved ones who have been missing or murdered in the past, but lawmakers hope that such penalties will help law enforcement with future investigations.
Take Kayla Chadwick’s case. The Fort Morgan teen disappeared almost four years ago. Her body was found some 16 months later. But because of advanced decomposition, the cause of death has not been determined. The case remains open, according to the Fort Morgan Police Department. But officers do have a suspect in mind.
Chadwick’s boyfriend, Ivan Torralba, also of Fort Morgan, and his mother, Lucila, were both charged and convicted of perjury related to her disappearance. But a more serious charge of tampering with evidence (the dead body), currently a class six felony, was dismissed.
Senate Bill 16-034, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, was amended this week to make tampering with a dead body a class three felony, with a minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of 12 years in prison. The charge would also carry substantial fines.
A stronger penalty could have helped with the Chadwick case, according to Sgt. Loren Sharp of the Fort Morgan Police Department.
Sonnenberg said this week that criminal justice isn’t among his usual interests, so he relied on the assistance of some of the Senate’s criminal justice heavyweights to fix the bill’s penalty language: Sens. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge and Michael Johnston of Denver. All are Democrats.
The original penalty language had included a confusing sliding scale for meting out punishment, which caused some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to waffle about whether they would support the bill. While Democrats don’t hold the majority in the Senate, they do hold sway with majority Democrats in the House, and that support would be crucial to getting the bill to the governor.
As amended Senate Bill 34 passed the Senate this morning on a 32-2 vote, with Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver voting “no.”
Steadman, a Democrat on the Joint Budget Committee, had argued against the bill this week because he feared it would lead to higher incarceration costs.
In the House, the bill will be carried by Democratic criminal justice powerhouse Rep. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat.