Monday, October 27, 2008


     William Henry, age 49, was a retired car dealership executive in the Indianapolis area.  Emotionally devastated by a diagnosis of and unsuccessful treatment for terminal liver cancer, William took his own life on March 11, 2002.

     William's family purchased a mausoleum vault from the Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens cemetery in Greenwood.  The plan was for William to be interred in a temporary vault while the construction of a permanent vault was being completed.  The family purchased a wooden casket for $3,678.00, and William's body was placed in it and then put in the temporary vault. 

     Over a year later, the permanent vault was ready.  William's family gathered at the cemetery to watch and to honor William as his body was moved to its permanent resting place.  William's adult son, father, sister and nephew were all there for the occasion.  

     The solemn ceremony soon became a disaster.  During the transfer process, the handles of the casket broke off.  As a result, the casket fell to the ground and broke into a number of pieces, exposing the contents.  William's horrified family members were able to see the stained cloth liner of the casket, a blanket covered with black mold, and portions of William's physical remains.  The odor of decomposed flesh overwhelmed the family.  

     William's family filed suit and sought recovery for their emotional trauma.  They proceeded to trial against the cemetery, criticizing it for failing to provide a temporary vault that would repel water and prevent decay of the casket.  They also complained against the cemetery for failing to ensure that the casket was structurally sound before attempting to move it, failing to use a tray to guide the casket out, and failing to cover the casket with a sheet.  Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens defended the case and denied any fault. 

     The case was tried for two days in Indianapolis.  After deliberating, the jury returned a verdict for the family in the total amount of $300,000.  William's son and nephew were each awarded $80,000, while William's father and sister were each awarded $70,000.  A judgment was entered by Judge Gerald Zore of the Marion Superior Court on August 27, 2008.  

     There is no word yet as to whether the cemetery plans to appeal.  Based upon my knowledge of the case, however, I think that an appeal is unlikely.  It is within the province of the jury to determine appropriate damages and, given the horrendous facts of this case, a verdict of $300,000 does not strike me as excessive.  Indiana courts have a long history of compensating bereaved family members where the mistreatment of a corpse has taken place.  It is possible that there could be some procedural grounds for an appeal, but that also is probably unlikely.  I know the attorneys for the family in this case, and I would be very surprised if there were any procedural irregularities.  

     I will let you know if I should learn that the case is being appealed.  

   *The basis for this account was originally published in the October, 2008 edition of The Indiana Jury Verdict Reporter.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The Indiana Court of Appeals recently decided a case that, in my view, involves an important but infrequently debated aspect of personal liberty and freedom. See what you think.

The Case: June 10, 2006 was a warm late spring evening in Warrick County, Indiana. It was so nice, in fact, that Chad Weideman decided to step outside of his house to enjoy the evening breeze. Since it was already dark out, he decided to dispense with the formality of clothing, and he walked outside in the nude.

By all indications, Chad had no intention of being seen by anyone else that evening. There were no outside lights on. He was in a secluded part of his side yard, standing near a fence by his property line and enjoying the pleasant night.

Gerald Bowser lived next door to Chad. At about 8:45 p.m., Gerald and his girlfriend Patty came out to get into Gerald's truck that was parked on the street. Even though it was dark out, Gerald and Patty could sense someone standing by the fence as they got into the truck. Gerald then drove his truck up onto the sidewalk, causing his headlights to illuminate Chad.

Gerald and Patty saw Chad standing there naked, with a look of panic or surprise on his face. Chad immediately dropped and rolled into a nearby ditch and crawled on his hands and knees to the back of his property. Patty called the police, and Chad was charged with public nudity as a Class B misdemeanor. He was convicted in the Warrick Superior Court, and appealed.

The Statute: Indiana Code 35-45-4-1.5(c) provides: "a person who knowingly or intentionally appears in a public place in a state of nudity with the intent to be seen by another person commits a Class B misdemeanor."

"Nudity" is defined as: "the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple, or the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state." It's true, friends. I'm not making this up. Pitching a tent in public is illegal in Indiana.

Chad appealed his conviction on the basis that there was no evidence presented that he appeared nude in a "public place," that the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define what a public place is, and that there was no evidence presented that he had the intent to be seen by another person on the evening in question.

The Decision: The Indiana Court of Appeals decided the case on July 16, 2008. The court held that the statute is not void for vagueness, because a person of ordinary intelligence can understand its meaning. The court stated that the phrase "public place" is not vague, as it is commonly understood to mean a place that is available to all or a certain segment of the public. The court further held that, although Chad was not actually standing in a public place when he was seen by Gerald and Patty, he "appeared" nude in a public place because he was visible to persons in a public place.

The court did conclude that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chad had the specific intent to be seen while in a state of nudity. For that reason, the judges remanded the case to the Warrick Superior Court with instructions to reduce the judgment to a Class C misdemeanor and to resentence Chad.

My Opinion: I think that it was a stretch for the court to find that Chad appeared nude in a public place while he was in a dark and secluded area of his own yard. Still, it's hard to find major fault with the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the statutes. My problem lies with the statutes themselves. In my opinion, the law in Indiana pertaining to public nudity is outdated and draconian. It is a vestige of our puritanical past, and it needs to be modernized.

I have to ask: Why are we as a society so threatened by the showing of the human body? Who was Chad hurting? Was it necessary to prosecute him criminally for this incident? We tend to be so very narrow minded in our society, leading to unwarranted feelings of guilt and shame. Public breastfeeding has even come under fire recently.

Why are we so ashamed about our bodies? The Super Bowl incident involving Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction comes to mind. Why do we believe that children will be traumatized and irreparably harmed if they should happen to see a woman's breast, a person's buttocks or, heaven forbid, genitals? To the contrary, I think that the human form is something that should be celebrated. It should not be hidden at all costs as something deemed to be shameful and indecent.

Of course, I understand that I am way ahead of the curve on this subject. I first had this debate, literally, when I was in a debating class in high school. I could not, and cannot, understand why people find public nudity to be objectionable. I know that it is difficult for people to open their minds to a new way of thinking. The legislature in Indiana is conservative beyond compare, and I do not expect them to become enlightened anytime soon. But this is one area in which I wish that it would.

You may disagree, but I believe that this is an issue of personal liberty and freedom. I believe that, eventually, our society will realize that the human body is not something of which we should be frightened and ashamed.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008


Late tomorrow afternoon my pals Rags, Bret and I will embark upon our annual pilgrimage to the rolling plains of Illinois. We'll be visiting Rags' brother John and his charming wife Linda, who live in a picturesque house nestled on the shores of Bayles Lake. The setting is tranquil and perfect. On Saturday, we'll be on hand with a huge crowd of Big Ten crazies to watch the fighting Illini take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Champaign.

The game promises to be a good one and, no matter what happens, a good time is assured. Because of our tradition of heading to Illinois for a football game on an annual basis, the three of us have become known to some of our friends as The Illini Brethren. We look forward to this weekend all year long. I have a mediation in Bloomington tomorrow, but will be meeting up with my orange clad brothers at Tristan's house in Indianapolis once that concludes. From there, we will head to the land of Chief Illiniwek.

On Sunday, I will be home in time to watch the final performance of Twelve Angry Jurors at Providence. The weekend promises to be a memorable one. As Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame used to declare, "You can bet your last money....It's gonna be a STONE-GAS, Honey!"

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Tonight is the opening of Twelve Angry Jurors in the new Ray Day Little Theater at Providence High School. The play is a reenactment of Twelve Angry Men, a play made into an award-winning classic movie in 1957 starring Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman and a host of other Hollywood legends. It is a powerful, riveting work dealing with prejudice and preconceived notions by jurors in the American legal system. I think that the movie should be required viewing for anyone planning to serve on a jury in a criminal case.
Here is a compilation of interesting clips from the movie:

I am especially eager to see Providence's production of the show because my son Collin, who is now a senior at the 'Dence, plays the role of Juror Number 8--the role played by Henry Fonda in the movie classic. I can't wait to see it.

Once again, I say it: Break a leg, C-Bear. You always make me proud.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


     Regarding the recent national financial crisis, I haven't found too much to enjoy.  In fact, the whole debacle has been downright depressing, and I have questions as to the wise course for our country to take at this point.  I must confess, though, to taking a certain measure of pride in my alma mater last night as I watched Senators Chris Dodd and Mitch McConnell on our nation's high dais announcing the bailout legislation passed by the U.S. Senate.  Dodd seems to have been the primary figure in the negotiations, and McConnell also obviously played a key role.  Both senators are graduates of the University of Louisville.  Frequent CoffeeSpoons readers know that I am quite a fan of Dodd, and I probably would have supported him for president.  While McConnell doesn't strike me as too much of a groovy dude, I am proud that he too is a 'Ville grad.

     Now if only our football team can get a win.  Skoal!  

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