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Appeals court vacates sentences in case of Montrose funeral home owners selling body parts

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Posted at 5:10 PM, Jul 02, 2024

DENVER — An appeals court on Tuesday vacated the sentences of two Montrose funeral home operators who pleaded guilty to selling body parts without family consent and are currently in a federal prison.

Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, operated the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose from 2010 to 2018. Authorities said the pair illegally sold body parts or entire bodies without the consent of the family of the deceased and shipped the parts in the mail.

In 2022, Hess pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aiding and abetting concerning the body part selling scheme. Her mother, Koch, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting as part of a plea agreement.

In January 2023, Hess was sentenced in federal court to 20 years in prison, while her mother got 15 years. However, on Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that the district court erred in calculating the loss amounts by including the money paid by body parts purchasers, who the court found did not suffer financial loss because the government did not meet the burden of proof.

The appeals court also found that the lower court failed to offset the loss with the value of legitimate goods and services provided to the next of kin and erred in applying sentence enhancements for the hundreds of victims.

The court vacated the sentences of both Hess and Koch and remanded the case for resentencing, instructing the district court to recalculate the loss amount and reconsider the enhancements.

The decision does not vacate the women’s mail fraud convictions. The court also denied Hess's request to reassign the case to a different judge.

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Local

Victims of Colo. funeral home that doubled as body broker begin healing journey

Colette Bordelon
10:36 PM, Jan 17, 2023

Danielle McCarthy used Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors when her beloved husband, David McCarthy Jr., died in 2017.

“My husband David was dismembered and sold by Megan Hess and Shirley Koch as part of their mail fraud scheme that impacted 800 families in the Montrose, Colorado, area," McCarthy said. “My husband was one of the very, very few — and we're talking a handful of bodies or body parts — that were returned to victims. The vast majority of the victim pool will not ever see their loved one or know what happened to their loved one."

The decision from the court of appeals states FBI agents discovered 811 decedents had their bodies or body parts sold. It continues to say that, "of the 811 individuals sold, only 42 individuals were procured... through informed consent."

The document also details the sentencing ranges for Hess and Koch based on the plea agreement. According to the court of appeals, Hess had a sentencing range of 151 to 188 months, meaning a sentence of at least 12 years in prison. Koch's sentencing range was between 63 and 78 months, meaning a 5-year sentence at minimum, according to the ruling.

“Largest body brokering scheme in the United States, and we're going to give them a slap on the hand," McCarthy said. “I understand the letter of the law, and I'm all for it, don't get me wrong. But there's also a point where that law represents people, human beings, flesh and blood, whether they're dead or alive.”

The court determined that the prosecution did not show enough support in order to include the large number of vulnerable victims sentence enhancer. The court said, "Victims who were deceased when the fraud was committed were not vulnerable victims for the purpose of this enhancement."

"So essentially, we don't care that you're dead, your body is dead. You aren't a victim because you're dead is the way I interpret that. So then, what would be a vulnerable victim?” asked McCarthy. “We treat animals and animal deaths better than we do human deaths in this country, all because we don't want to talk about death.”

McCarthy said her emotions have ranged from disappointment to anger and sadness. Still, she plans on speaking up on behalf of her husband and all those who cannot speak for themselves.

"If I don't, who does? And then also, no one understands. No one understands what it's like to carry this trauma," McCarthy explained. “There's also now a duty to stand up to monsters."


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