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Votes

Law on Dismemberment?

Virginia lacks law making it punishable to dismember someone after they have died.

Praveen Mandanapu, a native of India and resident of Broadlands, cannot be charged with an offense specifically dealing with the dismemberment of his wife, officials say. He faces first-degree murder in the June strangulation of Divya Mandanapu. Law enforcement officials said at the Family and Domestic Relations District Court hearing last week, he cut off her arms and legs, because he was not strong enough to carry her to a Dumpster.

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James Fisher has drafted legislation to amend a law that, if passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, would result in future cases of this nature to carry an additional charge of “concealing or compounding offenses.”

DEL. SCOTT LINGAMFELTER (R-31) said Friday that he asked Fisher to draw up language for a bill after learning about a national story involving Mark Hacking, charged with shooting his wife Lori Hacking and reporting her missing. Authorities said he threw her body in a Utah Dumpster and only a portion of her body was recovered in a landfill after he allegedly told his brothers about her whereabouts.

Lingamfelter said Mark Hacking put the community through hell looking for his wife, thinking she was still alive. “It just turned my stomach,” he said. “I want to do something about people who would visit this kind of horror on someone else. The entire community became a victim of that murder.”

He said he is passionate about the issue. “I want to make it very, very clear, this bill has nothing to do with the [Mandanapu] case,” he added.

Del. Steve Shannon (D-35), however, said he started working on similar legislation after talking to Fisher and Commonwealth Attorney James Plowman about the case. The three lawyers had worked for Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan Jr.; Shannon and Plowman worked there at the same time. Shannon, who checks in with the lawyers periodically, said Monday that he and Lingamfelter have agreed to work on the bill together. Shannon provided his proposal to the Division of Legislative Services, which is having a lawyer write the legislation. “We’ll go forward with whichever draft is tighter,” he said. “We’re trying to address the situation when an individual murders someone and makes it very difficult to find the body, because it has been dismembered.”

Another reason for the legislation is to ensure that juries have the opportunity to see pictures of the victim, he said. “Some judges won’t let the jury see the pictures because it is unduly inflammatory. But judges shouldn’t be sanitizing the evidence.”

LINGAMFELTER, WHO serves on the militia and public safety committee in the House of Delegates, said he plans to submit the bill as soon as he receives a financial impact statement on how many additional prison beds would be needed if it were to receive approval. He expects the measure will be sent to the courts of justice committee for review. “Regardless of the impact, I’m going to put the bill in.”

Mandanapu is accused of killing his wife and stuffing her body in a suitcase. Because she was too heavy to throw into a Dumpster, he allegedly cut off her limbs and placed them in trash bags, a deputy sheriff testified Thursday.

The “concealing or compounding offenses” statute currently makes it a crime to conceal evidence. Fisher said the amendment also would make it a felony if a person conceals, alters, dismembers or destroys any item of evidence with the intent to hinder investigation, apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment of the crime. “The benefit of this amendment is to address the issue of destruction of evidence as well as the dismemberment or concealing of the body of a victim of a homicide,” Fisher said.

“CERTAINLY, THIS SORT of case, it takes on something more sinister because of the gruesomeness of it,” he said. “It would have been nice to have this on the books now.”

Fisher also has drafted two other pieces of legislation dealing with speedy trials and the intentional act of infecting another person with HIV. He wrote the speedy trials bill, because charges were dismissed against convicted sniper John Allen Muhammed for having his right to a speedy trial violated. Muhammed and John Lee Malvo were implicated in the October 2002 murders of 10 people and wounding of three others in the Washington, D.C., area.

The speedy trial law currently provides five reasons a case would not be thrown out for lack of a speedy trial. Fisher proposed a sixth: if the accused is absent from the court due to a trial or hearing in another jurisdiction.

Regarding the other legislation, it is a crime only if a person with HIV, syphilis or hepatitis B intentionally infects someone, but not if he or she recklessly creates a risk of transmitting the infection. Fisher’s amendment would punish someone who creates the risk.

Lingamfelter said other speedy trial legislation already has been introduced by lawmakers, and he has not decided whether to push for the HIV amendment.

Fisher said he has drafted victim’s rights and “pro-law enforcement” legislation during other sessions, but never submitted it early enough to receive serious review. As former chairman of the Fauquier County Republican Party, he said he has the contacts to push for the legislation.