New law stops murderers from controlling victims’ remains


Closes loophole in New York State’s public health law

Amherst, N.Y. – State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer has announced Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law domestic violence legislation (S.7638/A.10624) that included his bill (S.4124/A.7594) to close a loophole in the state health law that gave a Western New York man who killed his wife the sole rights to her remains.

“Western New York has witnessed too many tragedies involving a murderer being able to control their victims’ remains because they are also the spouse of the victim,” said Ranzenhofer.  “I commend the Governor for signing this bill into law so that a disturbing loophole in the public health law that only serves to compound a family’s grief after the tragic passing of a loved one has been finally closed. Now, this law will prevent tragedies, such as the one in Tonawanda a few years ago, from ever occurring.”

In 2009, Stephen Shepherd of Tonawanda murdered his wife Constance.  For an extended period of time, he refused to take any action to dispose his wife’s remains, leaving her body in the county morgue.  When the husband finally did act, it was to dispose of her body in a way that the family believes was intentionally disrespectful, in violation of the woman’s beliefs and a further act of hostility towards her. 

The domestic violence legislation included a provision to prohibit a person who was the subject of an Order of Protection obtained by the deceased person, or who has been charged with causing the death of the deceased person, from having control of the disposition of the deceased’s remains.

Elaine O’Toole, cousin of the victim, brought this issue to Senator Ranzenhofer’s attention.

“Our family suffered a terrible tragedy  when a loophole in state law denied us the chance to ever say good-bye to my cousin, Connie,” said O’Toole.  “During a time of grief, I turned to Senator Ranzenhofer to let him know about what had happened, and we have been working together ever since to get this legislation passed.  Although it’s too late for our family, I hope that this new law will prevent other families from experiencing this kind of tragedy.”

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger sponsored Senate bill S.4124 in the State Assembly.

“I am very pleased that the Governor today signed into law a domestic violence package which included legislation sponsored by Senator Ranzenhofer and me that denies individuals who have been charged with causing the death of their spouse, or who were the subject of a restraining order protecting the deceased person, from being eligible to exercise control of the disposition of the deceased person’s remains,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger. “For too long, domestic violence was treated as a private matter where victims were left to suffer in silence without hope of intervention. Despite considerable progress in lowering the rate of domestic violence cases through legislation, an average of three women in the United States die every day as a result of these unconscionable acts.”

Another incident in Western New York also highlighted the need to change the law.  Family members of Aasiya Hassan of Orchard Park were not able to obtain the rights to her remains after she was killed by her husband, Mo Hassan.

The legislation passed the State Legislature on June 12.  The law will take effect 30 days after being signed into law.