Extent of graveyard misconduct takes center stage at Galilee trial

Updated: Sep. 5, 2018 at 6:21 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Testimony continued Wednesday in the trial over a lawsuit that claims hundreds of burials at Galilee Memorial Gardens were mishandled.

Twice Wednesday morning the ring of cell phones sounded in the large courtroom--created in the Shelby County building specifically for this case--and both times Chancellor Jim Kyle dismissed those offenders in the gallery for the duration of the trial.

"Will you please stand--whose phone went off--you are excused. I'd like his name and address please, and he'll be allowed to leave," Kyle said.

There are roughly 1,200 plaintiffs and nearly two dozen attorneys.

The attorneys represent 22 Memphis-area funeral homes who gave remains to Galilee Memorial Gardens in Bartlett for burials.

The families say the funeral homes, and more specifically funeral directors, are to blame for the thousands of mishandled burials at Galilee where caskets were crushed and some bodies buried on top of each other.

But attorneys for the funeral homes say it was the cemetery's responsibility to ensure proper burials not theirs, and the state of Tennessee allowed Galilee Memorial Gardens to operate without a license amid complaints about service and record keeping.

Funeral home officials said in depositions played in court that they didn't inquire if Galilee was licensed.

The officials also said in depositions that had they known the facility was unlicensed, they would have advised families that they could not allow a body to be buried there.

Family members with loved ones buried at Galilee Memories Gardens sat shocked Wednesday as a two-hour deposition describing the conditions was played.

Robert Moore was commissioned by the state to be responsible for the property as the cemetery's woes unfolded.

"I know where the bodies are. I just don't know who they are. The records were not kept in an appropriate or even uniform fashion," Moore said.

Moore's deposition revealed to the jury that some bodies were buried as close to two inches to surface, in mass graves, in collapsed areas, within inches of each other, in standing water, and in marshy drainage areas.

He also said when deposed earlier this year that despite the lack of organization and shoddy record keeping, his firm found plans from Galilee managers to add a chapel on the property when he was appointed receiver back in 2014.

"I don't know particularly where the Lamberts were going to build it, but nonetheless there were some architectural drawings and distinct plans that were in the office for that operation," Moore said.

Testimony ended with attorneys for the plaintiffs producing a number of death certificates for the record.

This trial is anticipated to last at least 3 weeks.

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