Friday, April 08, 2016

TOP STORY >> Funeral home’s owners’ trial set

Leader senior staff writer

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Thursday split the trial of Arkansas Funeral Care owners Leroy Wood, 84, and Rodney (Rod) Wood, 61, his son, from that of the manager, Edward Snow. Each was charged with 13 felony counts of abusing a corpse after an investigator for the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Home Directors found bodies “stacked on top of each other” and a cooler “filled beyond capacity.”

The three men operated the Jacksonville funeral home, located at 2620 W. Main St. It was shut down Jan. 12, 2015.

Leroy Wood, 87, is a Jacksonville resident. Rodney Wood, 62, lives in Heber Springs and Snow, 64, is a Cabot resident.

Piazza set an April 21 pre-trial hearing for the Woods. Among the issues to be resolved is whether the search of the funeral home, conducted by board investigator Leslie Stokes, was “out of bounds,” said former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Leroy Wood’s lawyer.

He called the search warrantless, and, along with Patrick Benca for Rodney Wood and Majorie Rogers for Snow, is contesting admissibility of Stokes’ testimony.

McDaniel said that issue was to have been resolved Thursday, but that Stokes, who has moved out of the area, wasn’t there.

McDaniel said later that the prosecution had known since October that he would challenge the admissibility of Stokes’ testimony at the pre-trial hearing Thursday.

The Woods will be tried April 25-27. Snow’s pre-trial hearing is set for May 24 and trial for June 27.

On Jan. 23, 2015, the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors levied a $10,000 fine and closed Arkansas Funeral Care by accepting voluntarily surrendered funeral director, crematory and establishment licenses from Leroy Wood. That fine has been paid, according to board Secretary Amy Goode.

According to the affidavit, employees told police there was an unusual number of death calls in January. They said the management refused to pay overtime and would not cremate or bury anyone until services were paid for in full.

The employees also claimed the Woods denied requests for additional help, equipment and overtime because they said they couldn’t afford it. The father and son were planning to open another funeral home in Alma at that time.

The affidavit lists 12 witnesses, with one being the board’s inspector and another being a Jacksonville police officer. It’s probable the other 10 are employees.

The affidavit also reads, “There is evidence of multiple bodies stored outside of the cooler over a period of time in January…Bodies were stacked on top of one another, on pallets, on the washer and dryer and on every available space they could find.

“Coffee cans with deodorizer were placed next to bodies to help with the odor in the room. The employees reported they were astonished that management refused to stop taking bodies when there was nowhere left to put them.”

Stokes first presented her report during a Jan. 21 emergency teleconference, and 31 bodies and 22 remains were immediately removed from the home.