By Biodun Busari
A 46-year-old funeral home owner, Megan Hess based in Colorado, the United States has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for selling body parts.
The woman who pleaded guilty to fraud in July, without the consent of the relatives of the dead, dissected 560 corpses and sold them, Reuters said on Wednesday.
Hess managed a funeral home, Sunset Mesa, and a body parts entity, Donor Services, from the same building in Montrose, Colorado.
She was handed a 20-year jail term in federal prison yesterday, the maximum allowed under the law.
Also, her 69-year-old mother, Shirley Koch, also pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 15 years. Koch’s central role was chopping up the bodies, court records showed.
“Hess and Koch used their funeral home at times to essentially steal bodies and body parts using fraudulent and forged donor forms,” prosecutor Tim Neff said in a court filing. “Hess and Koch’s conduct caused immense emotional pain for the families and next of kin.”
The federal case was prompted by a 2016-2018 Reuters investigative series about the sale of body parts in the United States, a virtually unregulated industry.
Former workers told Reuters that Hess and Koch conducted unauthorized dismemberments of bodies, and a few weeks after a 2018 story was published, the FBI raided the business.
In their filing, prosecutors stressed the “macabre nature” of Hess’ scheme and described it as one of the most significant body parts cases in recent U.S. history.
“This is the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced on the bench,” US District Judge Christine M. Arguello said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“It’s concerning to the court that defendant Hess refuses to assume any responsibility for her conduct.”
The judge ordered that Hess and Koch be sent to prison immediately.
Hess’ lawyer said she has been unfairly denigrated as a “witch,” a “monster” and a “ghoul,” when instead she is a “broken human being” whose conduct can be attributed to a traumatic brain injury at age 18.
While Hess declined to speak to the judge, her mother, Koch told the judge she was sorry and accepted responsibility for her actions.
Twenty-six victims described their horror at discovering what had happened to their loved ones.
“Our sweet mother, they dismembered her,” Erin Smith said, selling her shoulders, knees and feet for profit. “We don’t even have a name for a crime this heinous.”