Lawsuit in Hamilton County corpse abuse case can go forward

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- A lawsuit against officials in a county where a morgue attendant sexually abused three female corpses can go forward, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

A jury might conclude that Hamilton County's former coroner and morgue director should have known that the morgue attendant could harm or disrespect corpses, the three-judge 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said. The judges cited evidence that it was known that attendant Kenneth Douglas was drinking heavily and having sex with live women while on the job.

Douglas' wife had called his supervisor complaining he was coming home from work drunk and "smelling like sex," and the former morgue director knew he had run-ins with the law and other personal issues yet continued to schedule him to work alone at the morgue, court records show.

"A jury could find that the county defendants recklessly and wantonly failed to supervise Douglas despite the known risks he posed to the bodies," wrote Circuit Judge Jane B. Stranch.

Douglas was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse. He admitted having intercourse, while drunk and high on drugs, with the bodies of the three women whose families are suing, according to court records. The first case dated to the 1982 stabbing death of 19-year-old Karen Sue Range. The corpse abuse was discovered 25 years later after authorities conducted DNA testing for a court appeal in the Range slaying case and found that semen in her body was a match for Douglas.

The appeals panel opinion upholds earlier rulings by a lower court, including rejecting federal constitutional violation claims by relatives of the women whose corpses were abused.

"The families can finally get their day in court," family attorney Al Gerhardstein said. "It's been a long time. It's a horrible case with horrible facts."

Hamilton County prosecutor's spokesman Julie Wilson said that her office was reviewing the opinion.

During arguments last year, a county attorney contended that no one could have anticipated Douglas would sexually abuse corpses. The families' lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

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