Men plead not guilty to 20 felony counts in Merced urn thefts

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comAugust 16, 2013 

— The two men accused of stealing urns containing human remains from Evergreen Funeral Home and Memorial Park have been charged with 20 felonies.

Marc Reid, 55, and Richard Madsen, 68, were recently arraigned in connection with the theft of nine metal urns from the cemetery between May 7 or 8.

The men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Each faces nine felony counts of illegal removal of human remains, nine counts of grand theft of personal property, one count of receiving stolen property and one count of vandalism.

Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira said the case is in a preliminary stage and prosecutors aren't planning on making any deals with the defendants because of the gravity of the accusations.

Silveira said she feels particularly sympathetic to those families whose loved ones' remains were taken and then discarded. "There is not going to be an offer. We find this incredibly appalling. It's incomprehensible," she said.

Madsen would face eight years and four months in prison if convicted. Reid would face 14 years and four months. Silveira said Reid faces a longer sentence because of prior convictions.

Reid's criminal background goes far back as 1993 and includes convictions for robbery, petty theft, possession of a controlled substance and evading police, according to court documents.

Detectives identified Madsen and Reid as suspects after following up on tips. One tipster told police Madsen had been in possession of a brass urn that looked "similar to a book or Bible," according to the police report.

Police also spoke to a witness who claimed he'd seen Madsen and Reid unloading brass urns from a vehicle during the early morning hours. The witness said he had watched the suspects grinding and destroying the urns.

One of the tipsters told police that Madsen and Reid had probably taken the urns to Velocity Recycling at 371 S. Highway 59.

Detectives caught up with Madsen about 7 a.m. on June 18 after he showed up at the Merced Rescue Mission for breakfast. Police took Madsen in for questioning.

During the interview with Detective Paul Johnson, police said Madsen told them that during the night the theft happened, he'd picked Reid up for a ride. Reid claimed he needed to go to the cemetery to pick up some items, and asked Madsen to drive him there.

Madsen said he parked behind the cemetery, next to the tractors and shop area. He claimed he stayed there while Reid walked into the cemetery.

Suspect: Contents of urns discarded

According to Madsen, Reid returned to the car with the urns, and they went back to a residence at 1641 Laurel Ave. Madsen said he paid Reid $30 for four of the nine urns.

When police asked Madsen where the ashes in the urns were, he admitted that they had been thrown into a trash bin.

According to police, Madsen said under questioning that he took the four urns to Velocity Recycling, but was told by employees they wouldn't take the items because they were urns. Madsen said he then took the items back to the Laurel Avenue residence, where they were ground up "beyond recognition." Madsen said he then took the pieces of metal back to Velocity Recycling and sold it to the business.

Police had a customer list from Velocity Recycling, showing Madsen had been at the business on May 8 and May 18. They asked Madsen what Reid had done with the urns in his possession, but Madsen claimed he didn't know.

During his interview with police, Madsen mentioned that his late mother and sister were cremated, and their ashes are kept inside urns at a cemetery in the San Jose area.

Police said Madsen agreed to write a letter of apology. The letter reads: "For my part of the taking of the urns, I would like to say I don't know what happened to the ashes or other remains. Please forgive me for I'm really sorry. Thank you, Richard Madsen."

Reid was arrested by police of July 31, after officers found him on Motel Drive.

He did not answer questions by detectives after being taken into custody.

Staff at Velocity Recycling say they didn't know the items were stolen.

Alex Hernandez Sr., the father of Velocity Recycling's owner, Alex Hernandez Jr., said he'd heard the urns were broken up by the customer when they were brought to the business.

Hernandez, who said he acts as an adviser to his son, said it's not always possible when scraps are brought to the business to tell where they're from.

"We're not police officers," Hernandez said. "How do we know that material's stolen? We can't tell the customer, 'Hey, this is stolen. We're not going to buy it from you.' "

However, Hernandez said Velocity Recycling does have some measures in place to help cut down on receiving stolen items.

The business has a three-day hold on items, and workers check the customer's personal identification, although there's no background check to determine someone's criminal history.

Madsen is being represented in the case by Jeffrey Tenenbaum, while Reid is being represented by William Davis.

Tenenbaum said he's still reviewing reports in the case, and could not elaborate on the allegations his client faces. Tenenbaum said his client's "looking forward to his day in court."

Davis could not be reached at press time Monday.

Both suspects remain in custody at the Merced County Jail.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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