Eight years after their arrest and first trial received intense media attention and prompted state-mandated changes in the funeral industry, Laurieanne and Jerry Sconce, former owners of Pasadena's Lamb Funeral Home, are back in court.
But this time, despite the morbid allegations of removing body parts for sale without permission, the couple's trial is causing barely a media ripple.
The reporters, photographers and television cameras swarming the corridors of the Downtown Los Angeles Superior Court are there for the O. J. Simpson murder trial. Hardly anyone notices the older couple who, at midday, seat themselves on chairs at the end of the ninth-floor hall and break out a brown-bag lunch.
The Sconces--Laurieanne, 57, and Jerry, 60--subjects of three paperback books about the funeral home scandal, no longer own the mortuary.
Laurieanne Sconce appears to be the same warm, grandmotherly figure of a decade ago, wearing flowered-print dresses and a pink sweater over her shoulders. But her husband seems less robust now, thinner, with a white beard and a stoop to his shoulders. Unemployed, they said they live nearly penniless in Arizona.
"It's been very devastating for them," said Edward Rucker, Laurieanne Sconce's attorney.
The Sconces, along with their son David, 37, formerly owned and operated a well-respected and decades-old mortuary on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena and a crematory in nearby Altadena. But in 1987, the three were arrested by investigators who alleged the Sconces had, among other things, conducted multiple cremations and pulled out gold teeth and body parts from corpses.
After a jury trial in 1992, Laurieanne and Jerry were acquitted of three of the more serious charges. A mistrial was declared on six others.
Now, they face trial on lesser charges, including a few of those on which the 1992 jury failed to reach a decision, some charges left over from 1987 and others that were dismissed by a Pasadena judge in 1989 and later reinstated by a state appeals court. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to six years in state prison.
In opening statements Monday, co-prosecutor Deputy Dist. Atty. Gloria Mas handed jurors a two-page outline of the current charges against the Sconces and tersely summarized the prosecution's case. Mas said 21 family members will testify that they never gave the Sconces permission to remove body parts from the bodies of their relatives and that the signatures on authorization forms were forged. Mortuary workers will also testify that the Sconces falsely told them that permission had been granted, Mas said. Further, Mas said bank officials will testify that from February, 1984, to 1986, Laurieanne Sconce received $100,000 in interest that should have been kept in prepaid funeral service accounts.
But Rucker, in his opening statement, portrayed the couple as victimized by their son, who independently operated the Altadena crematory and the business supplying body organs to laboratories. The son hid his misdeeds from everyone, including his parents, Rucker said.
The Sconces' decision to help their son start his own business "brought pain to the families of the deceased, ruin upon the funeral home and tragedy to Jerry Sconce and Laurieanne Sconce and their son David," Rucker said.
Rucker called the alleged embezzlement a misunderstanding over an accounting practice the mortuary had used for decades. When informed they should stop withdrawing interest, the Sconces paid back everything they had taken, Rucker said, adding, "Nobody lost a penny from that."
Jerry Sconce's attorney, Thomas Nishi, reserved his opening statement for later in the trial.
Meanwhile, David Sconce, who served 2 1/2 years in state prison after pleading guilty in 1989 to 20 charges involving misdeeds in running the business, awaits trial on solicitation to commit the murder of a mortuary rival.