KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A man who left his girlfriend's body to decompose in his Jeep Cherokee must pay her parents $500,000 for interfering with their rights to properly bury her, a Jackson County jury has ruled.
In 2005, Matthew C. Davis, 42, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison for abandoning a corpse and 15 more for three unrelated drug charges.
Police found the decomposed body of Amber McGathey, 22, in Davis' Jeep on June 6, 2004. Prosecutors believed McGathey died of a drug overdose four days earlier, when a witness saw a man wheeling a shopping cart with what appeared to be a body in it.
On Wednesday, the jury ordered Davis to pay $250,000 each to Boyd McGathey, of Parkville, and Debra Augustine, of Waterloo, Ill. They had sued under a rarely used legal doctrine called "interference with the right of sepulcher and burial."
Rooted in English common law, the legal principle has seldom been used in Missouri and generally only in fights with funeral homes over mistakes, lawyers said.
Davis, who lived on a trust fund income of about $8,000 a month, told another person that McGathey died of a drug overdose, according to court records. The medical examiner found opiates in her body and no other obvious cause of death.
Boyd McCathey has said Davis lied to the family while they were searching for Amber, saying she had left with a girlfriend.
The parents said they wanted their daughter to at least be buried in a closed casket in a new dress and with her grandmother's ring on her finger but couldn't because of decomposition.
The parents' lawyer had asked jurors for $1 million in actual damages for each parent plus punitive damages.
The mother, Augustine, thanked jurors after the verdict and said she was pleased.
"It's just a little more punishment for him," she said.
Defense lawyer Patrick Peters had argued that Davis, who was on drugs, faced a tough choice after finding a body at his home. He didn't bury it or throw it in the trash so the parents would never know what happened, Peters said.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com