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July 23, 2009

"'Bishop' receives two-year sentence for making kids live with corpse"

The title of this post is headline of this local article from Wisconsin that seems tailor made for blog debate.  Here are the details:

A former Necedah church leader will spend the next two years in prison for keeping a decomposing corpse in the bathroom of a home where two children lived.  Alan A. Bushey, also known as Bishop John Peter of the Order of the Divine Will Church, was given three years of extended supervision to follow his prison sentence for being a party to the crime of hiding a corpse.

During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Juneau County Circuit Court Judge John Roemer Jr. also ordered Bushey to have no contact with his co-defendant, Tammy D. Lewis, or her two children and to undergo domestic abuse counseling and not act as a member of the clergy.

A 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl were forced to live with the decaying body of Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth, 90, in Middlesworth's Necedah home for 65 days.  On May 7, 2008, the body was discovered by a Juneau County deputy after the Sheriff's Department received a call from one of Middlesworth's concerned relatives, Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said.  Bushey and Lewis were paying their bills and the bills of the Divine Will Church with Middlesworth's Social Security and annuity checks, which continued being sent after her death.

In a written statement, the 12-year-old boy, now 13, asked the judge to sentence Bushey to a minimum of four years in prison, one year for each year he and his sister spent in Middlesworth's home cut off from the outside world. Southworth said the recommendation was appropriate.

Southworth said he visited Middlesworth's home a short time after the body was discovered and that he had to wear a chemical suit to avoid contamination. "I have personal experience with war and I have seen death; I have never seen anything like that in my life," Southworth said.

According to the criminal complaint, Bushey told Lewis and her two children that if they prayed and believed, Middlesworth would come back to life. The children were punished and beaten with a wooden stick when the body began to decompose.

Three of Bushey's supporters, including the children's grandmother, Patricia Lewis, spoke at the sentencing.  She said Bushey helped the family and everyone was happy. Bushey established discipline for the children, Lewis said. "I don't think they were harmed by the conditions with Alvina (Middlesworth) in the house after she passed away," she said. "I believe that (Bushey) believed Alvina (Middlesworth) would come back to life. I think he made a mistake; it wasn't murder."

Beyond the opportunity for gallows humor in response to this sentencing story, I wonder what folks think of the sentencing requirement that the defendant "not act as a member of the clergy."  That sentencing term strikes me as potentially raising some First Amendment problems, though I doubt that the issue will get litigated in this bizarre case.

July 23, 2009 at 02:05 PM | Permalink


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I do have problems with that condition, especially since this wasn't part of a plea arrangement.

Sorta reminds me of the mother who will be released from her plea if her son comes back to life. Just goes to show you there are some bug nuts people out there.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 23, 2009 2:35:23 PM

I would think that the clergy prohibition would raise some very serious First Amendment issues, although I have not researched the issue. Having a prohibition on religious practice imposed as a criminal sanction would seem to me to violate both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses.

Posted by: JC | Jul 23, 2009 2:36:01 PM

I think this case looks a lot like an Employment Division v. Smith question. Sentences often impact the free exercise of religion, but often they are tailored to something apart from the religion, and thus, under the reasoning of Smith, do not burden it from a constitutional perspective. For example, sex offenders may be prohibited from going to buildings where children are generally found, which would rule out nearly all churches, but the restriction is tailored to threats the offender pose to children, not to burdening religion.

In this case, I just don't see what the restriction is tailored to other than an attack on this guy's religious practice itself. Under Smith's logic, that is a direct burden on free exercise. Sure, the guy's nutty, and by acting as a clergyman he exposes others to his own nutty beliefs, but I suppose George Carlin would retort that mainstream religion does the same thing. Regardless of whether you're religious or not, it seems that free exercise rights were meant to prevent cherrypicking "valid" religions for constitutional protection.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jul 23, 2009 2:40:11 PM

No lawyer should call anyone else's religious practices nutty, nor prohibit them. First, look at yourselves. Core legal doctrines are psychotic and ridiculous. Yet, based on them, $billions change hands at the point of a gun, and people are put to death.

Psycho was based on real world serial killer. Far less nutty than the ALI or other lawyer hierarchy. And far fewer kills to his name than any member of the lawyer hierarchy.


Neither thin nor good looking as in the movies. Could have been a litigator, perhaps, with a little luck.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 23, 2009 4:20:51 PM

res ipsa. Actually, the whole case strikes me that way. It seems to me he is going to jail for being different not for any real crime. Party to hiding a corpse? Surely this las law intended to be a crime for murders or perhaps unscrupulous undertakers. It seems a real stretch. And I fail to see how making the children live with the corpse, while undoubtedly unpleasant, really raises to the level of child abuse. Growing up on a farm I was a around smelly stuff all day, no one put my parents in jail.

I am not saying that that he should have got off free. But this sentence doesn't really seem to have much of an objective basis.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 23, 2009 4:43:27 PM


If the only facts were forcing the kids to live with a corpse, I would agree wholeheartedly with you. My only reservation is that I can't help but think that the children being beaten when the body began to decompose (for not praying hard enough, apparently...) had something to do with the sentence length. There isn't much detail on this aspect, so I can't say whether that justifies two years, but it's something to consider despite that it's uncharged conduct.

In any event, I agree that merely living with a corpse doesn't justify two years, but I think the kids were advocating for a harsher sentence for another reason.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jul 24, 2009 9:43:24 AM

seems like they could have been charged with some kind of fraud for cashing the social security checks (though maybe they could have negated the necessary intent with evidence that he thought she would come back to life and was just holding onto the money for her...). weird case.

Posted by: anon | Jul 24, 2009 10:42:45 AM

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