Necrophilia In Wisconsin

Ken AshfordCourts/Law, Crime, Sex ScandalsLeave a Comment


Hi, guys.  It’s quite obvious, looking at you, why you are unable to have sex with an actual living girl….

And I know, man.  We’ve all been there, especially at the awkward pimply face age.

But, I gotta tell you, digging up girls to have sex with?  So, not cool.

Their intended victim was a 20 year old nursing assistant who was killed in a motorcycle accident.  That’s a tragedy as it is, but the story gets even more twisted….

703203847165A few days after Tennessen’s death, three Wisconsin men spotted her obituary, and obviously found her quite attractive, and decided to dig up Tennessen’s body to have sex with her. Nicholas Grunke ( son of a Methodist minister), his twin brother Alex, and their friend Dustin Radke all plotted this disgusting act.

Police said the three Wisconsin men were carrying shovels, a crowbar, and a box of condoms to the cemetary to dig up the dead body of Laura Tennessen, who had died the week before in the motorcycle wreck.

Nicholas Grunke had viewed her photo in the obituary and asked his brother and friend to aid in helping dig up her corpse so that he could have sexual intercourse with it.

The three guys used shovels to reach her grave, but were not able to pry open the vault. After seeing the abandoned car, police questioned Alex Grunke, who was acting very nervous, and he admitted to police the scheme, and that his cohorts were digging up Tennessen’s coffin.

Now, the reason I write about this, aside from my natural moral outrage, is because of the legal aspects of it.

It seems that Wisconsin (where these events took place) has no law against necrophilia.  So what’s a prosecutor to do?

Well, curious about the legal aspects of this case (which the media only glazed over), I perused the recent opinion (pdf).

The State of Wisconsin charged the young men with (a) attempted theft and (b) attempted third degree sexual assault.  They were convicted of attempted theft (which carries a light penalty), so let’s forget about that.

As to the other more serious charge (attempted third degree sexual assault), the trial court dismissed it, holding that it does not apply when the intended victim is deceased. 

On appeal, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed.  The higher court noted that, under the statute, sexual assault (or attempts thereof) is a crime if the victim does not give consent to sex.  But the statute also says that "consent is not an issue" in certain circumstances.  For example, if the victim is unconscious or mentally impaired or intoxicated, lack of consent by the victim is presumed.  Unfortunately, being dead was not listed as one of those circumstances where lack of consent is presumed. 

Confounding the analysis is another part of the statute which says that the "entire statute" applies regardless of whether the victim is dead or alive at the time of the attempted sexual contact.

A bit confusing?  Yeah, that’s what the Court of Appeals thought.  But they came to the conclusion that the crime of sexual assault — while obviously applicable to assaults and attempted assaults on living victims — can be applied to dead people in only one circumstance: when the victim becomes deceased as the result of the sexual assault.  And that’s not what happened here (Ms. Tennessen was already dead.  And buried).

So the case gets appealed to Wisconsin Superior Court, the highest court of the state.

They got it right.

They said the statute wasn’t ambiguous.  Like the courts below it, the Wisconsin Superior Court said that being dead isn’t one of those circumstances (like being unconscious) where lack of consent is presumed. 

But what does that mean?  Here, the Wisconsin Superior Court differed from the lower courts.  Since the exception doesn’t apply and we can’t presume lack of consent automatically, all that means is that the State has to prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the victim didn’t give consent.  In this particular situation, where the victim couldn’t have given consent because she’s, well, several weeks dead, the State has a pretty easy job of proving "lack of consent".  But just because something is easy to prove, doesn’t make the statute ambiguous.

Interestingly, two justices dissented.  They just thought that the legislature, when it drafted the statute, didn’t intend it to cover necrophilia.

(Side note:  since this case came down the pike, Wisconsin now has a specific necrophilia statute.  But it can’t be applied retroactively, since that would be unconstitutional.)