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Church supports man who stole human remains from cemetery as he is sentenced in St. John's

Lucas Dawe, 20, with his lawyer, Ken Hollett (left), before his sentencing hearing in provincial court in St. John’s Wednesday afternoon.
Lucas Dawe, 20, with his lawyer, Ken Hollett (left), before his sentencing hearing in provincial court in St. John’s Wednesday afternoon. - Tara Bradbury

Lucas Dawe tells the court he is sorry for what he did, and was drunk at the time

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The second row of the courtroom gallery was perhaps not the type of pew Rev. Wayne Parsons is used to, though he sat there on Wednesday, preparing to deliver a message to which he is likely more accustomed.

Parsons waited to be called to the witness stand at the sentencing hearing for 20-year-old Lucas Dawe, who had admitted stealing human remains from a crypt in All Saints' Anglican cemetery and performing an indignity to it. The remains, the court heard, came from the grave of John and Mary Butler, a married couple who died in the mid-1800s.

As rector of All Saints' Anglican Parish, Parsons presented a victim impact statement to the court, saying he felt it was important for him to do so.

He wanted to first reiterate the sacredness of cemeteries, he said, and the fact that the final resting spots of the deceased should not be disturbed under any circumstances. Dawe's crime affected not only the church, but the entire community, the rector said, and the church is looking to ensure a similar crime doesn't happen again.

Second, Parsons acknowledged his support for Dawe in his rehabilitation back into the community.

The remains came from the grave of John and Mary Butler, a married couple who died in the mid-1800s. - SaltWire File Photo
The remains came from the grave of John and Mary Butler, a married couple who died in the mid-1800s. - SaltWire File Photo

"We want to acknowledge that we do wish Mr. Dawe well moving forward, and to (say) as well that if support is requested from us as a parish or particularly myself as rector, then it would be provided in a very confidential and dignified manner," Parsons said.

"I would say the church is supportive, I know I am supportive as rector, and obviously as a church, at the end of the day, we have to bring light into sometimes very dark places in society. The church is called to do that, and that's one of the reasons I'm here this afternoon."

The court heard that one of Dawe's friends had contacted the RNC shortly before 1 a.m. on April 6, telling them Dawe had tried to get into his truck the previous afternoon with a human skull that was missing a jawbone, wrapped in a sweater. The man said he hadn't wanted Dawe to bring the skull into the truck, so he arranged to meet Dawe a short time later on the C.B.S. Highway.

The man told police he had been parked and waiting for Dawe in the truck when he watched Dawe place the skull, still wrapped in the sweater, in the woods along the trail between Dunn's Hill Road and Greeleytown Road in C.B.S.

The man told police officers Dawe had taken the remains from a tomb in a graveyard on Church Road in the same community about 18 months earlier. The man said he had advised his friend to seek help from a crisis phone line.

"Through a pre-existing opening, in part caused by erosion, Mr. Dawe was able to reach his arm into the tomb," prosecutor Jessica Gallant told the court.

Dawe had poured boiled water over the skull to clean it and then kept the skull as a curiosity item, Gallant said, adding Dawe's friend told investigators Dawe had said he wanted to return the remains to the cemetery.

Sources told The Telegram at the time of Dawe's arrest that he had previously been seen licking the skull and drinking the boiled water in which he had placed it.

RNC officers, with the help of a police dog, searched the area described by Dawe's friend and located the skull inside the sweater, lying in bushes. A search of All Saints' Cemetery revealed the Butler tomb, in which there was an opening in the covering slab of concrete.

"Police were able to observe bones, rocks and metal objects," Gallant said. "Though a person could not fit into the opening, enough space allowed someone to reach their hand into the tomb and remove items from inside."

Dawe was arrested on April 9 and has consented to remain in custody since then. He originally pleaded not guilty to charges related to the human remains, but later made a plea deal.

"He finds being removed from the lifestyle that he was leading has given him time to have some reflection on the kind of life he'd like to live, and he'd like to live in a more sober state." — defence lawyer Ken Hollett

On Wednesday he pleaded guilty to performing an indignity to human remains, as well as two thefts of beer from a Circle K store in C.B.S. last January.

Dawe's lawyer, Ken Hollett, suggested a sentence of time served for Dawe, noting he has been a model inmate during his time in Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, participating in rehabilitation programs voluntarily and requesting addictions counselling, for which he is on the waitlist.

"He finds being removed from the lifestyle that he was leading has given him time to have some reflection on the kind of life he'd like to live, and he'd like to live in a more sober state," Hollett told the court.

Dawe's jail time has marked the longest time he has been sober since he was a young teenager, Hollett said.

Hollett also pointed to Dawe's quick guilty pleas and his consent to remain in custody until his case was heard, and noted the media publicity about the case has been significant. A sentence of time served would allow Dawe to start to reintegrate himself in the community as a productive member, Hollett said.

Gallant suggested a jail sentence of 30 days for the charges related to the beer theft, and a sentence of between four and six months for the charge related to the human remains, followed by a period of 12-18 months of probation with mandatory counselling.

Gallant acknowledged Dawe's steps to overcome his addictions issues, his guilty pleas, and his young age, but expressed the seriousness of stealing human remains.

"I think it's fair to say that the broader community is concerned by this type of behaviour. Regardless of your religious or cultural background, our respect for human remains is something that seems cross-cultural." — prosecutor Jessica Gallant

"We are talking about human remains, about someone who was a person, someone who has descendants living in the community," she said, adding that while Dawe may have said he wanted to return the skull to the cemetery, he had kept it for a year and a half. "I think it's fair to say that the broader community is concerned by this type of behaviour. Regardless of your religious or cultural background, our respect for human remains is something that seems cross-cultural."

When it was his turn to address the court, Dawe expressed remorse.

"I was intoxicated, drunk when I did it, and I do feel bad for doing it. I am sorry for doing it. It's no excuse," he told Judge David Orr.

After a 30-minute break, Orr returned to the courtroom to deliver his sentencing decision. Calling Dawe's removal of the remains from the tomb the "most troubling" aspect of the case and acknowledging Dawe's young age and efforts to self-rehabilitate, Orr handed Dawe a total sentence of 150 days behind bars.

With credit given for the time Dawe has spent in custody, he has 42 days left to serve.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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