ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah man, who was arrested earlier this month after burying his elderly mother’s body under coal in a basement room of the home they shared, has entered a guilty plea in the case.
Pete Marker, 66, of Panguitch, pleaded guilty Thursday to third-degree felony abuse or desecration of a dead human body in 6th District Court. As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed a class B misdemeanor charge of failing to report a dead human body.
Judge Marvin Bagley sentenced Marker to two years probation and suspended a $9,533 fine, according to court documents. Marker is also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and comply with recommended treatment.
Marker was arrested Jan. 10 after authorities were contacted by a St. George woman who said she had received a letter from her uncle, Marker, stating that her 90-year-old grandmother, Roma Bowman, had died of natural causes on Christmas Day, charging documents state.
The letter to his niece reportedly went on to say that he had buried the woman in the hills west of Panguitch because he had promised her he would give her a “green funeral.”
In a “natural or green burial” the body is buried without embalming in a biodegradable casket without a concrete vault, so the body may naturally return to the soil upon decomposition, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
Marker reportedly told authorities that he found his mother dead in her bed Dec. 25, 2017, three hours after she had gone to bed, according to a probable cause statement filed by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office in support of Marker’s arrest.
Marker said he went to the mountains to try to find a suitable place to bury his mother but found there were elk hunters in the area, and “he did not dare bury her with all the people around,” the arresting deputy wrote in the sworn statement, adding:
Marker stated that he was aware that burying someone in the hills was against the law and that he thought about notifying the sheriff’s office, but did not do so.
Instead, Marker said he placed a denim jacket on his mother’s body and wrapped her in bedding before placing her on a green Gatorade sign and dragging her down to the basement of the home, the report states. He then placed Bowman in an unused coal storage room, covered her with coal and boarded the room back up.
After interviewing Marker, investigators went to the basement of his home and pried off the wood planks that were covering the doorway, so they could gain access to the room, according to the charging documents. They then began digging in the coal, finding a black tarp that appeared to be covering a body with Carpet Fresh rug and room deodorizer powder sprinkled over the tarp.
“In removing the black tarp, we found bedding that appeared to be wrapped around a body,” the report states. “We could also smell a strong odor of decomposing flesh. Under the body was the green Gatorade sign used to haul Bowman’s body down the stairs. The body was also placed on a cushion. The body was totally buried in coal.”
Marker was subsequently arrested and booked into the Garfield County Jail where he was held on a $200,000 cash-only bail pending trial.
Marker has not been charged with any charges indicative of foul play in his mother’s death. According to Utah court documents, Marker has no other criminal history in Utah.
While green burials are growing in popularity throughout nation and state, residents should be warned there are rules that must be followed to avoid criminal charges, Salt Lake Criminal Defense Attorney Clayton Simms wrote in a blog relating to Marker’s arrest and burial laws.
Simms points out one law Marker failed to obey was letting authorities know his mother had died. Under Utah Code 26-4-7 and 8, it is a class B misdemeanor to not report a deceased body if it appears that death was:
- by violence, gunshot, suicide or accident;
- sudden death while in apparent good health;
- unattended deaths …;
- under suspicious or unusual circumstances;
- resulting from poisoning or overdose of drugs;
- resulting from diseases that may constitute a threat to the public health;
- resulting from disease, injury, toxic effect or unusual exertion incurred within the scope of the decedent’s employment;
- due to sudden infant death syndrome;
- resulting while the decedent was in (police or state custody) …; or
- associated with diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.
By law, when death occurs under circumstances listed in Section 26-4-7, the person or persons finding or having custody of the body shall immediately notify the nearest law enforcement agency.
“All signs so far point to the very elderly woman dying naturally in her sleep,” Simms wrote, “but because she was alone in her bed when she passed, and no one was around to witness it, is was a crime not to report it.”
Under Utah Code 76-9-704, a person is guilty of abuse or desecration of a dead human body if the person intentionally and unlawfully:
- fails to report the finding of a dead human body to a local law enforcement agency;
- disturbs, moves, removes, conceals or destroys a dead human body or any part of it;
- disinters a buried or otherwise interred dead human body, without authority of a court order;
- dismembers a dead human body to any extent, or damages or detaches any part or portion of a dead human body; or
- commits or attempts to commit upon any dead human body any act of sexual penetration, regardless of the sex of the actor and of the dead human body.
Those wishing to carry out a green burial must follow the law regarding proper notification and handling of a dead human body or risk criminal charges.. After reporting the death, family members must obtain a death certificate prior to burial in Utah.
A green burial is not allowed in most commercial cemeteries in Utah, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Utah, but some rural cemeteries may allow it. Local ordinances govern whether burials are permitted on rural private properties.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.