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More families plan lawsuit against Galilee cemetery

By Clay Bailey, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 11--Family members of three people buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens said Tuesday they plan to file a lawsuit against the troubled Bartlett cemetery and other parties within the next month.

Elbert Jefferson with The Cochran Firm said at a morning press conference they are still researching their options on pursuing action, but it will probably be a class action lawsuit. He also said filing in federal court is a possibility.

Jefferson said about 100 potential clients have contacted the firm about practices at the cemetery.

While the claims in the potential lawsuit by The Cochran Firm are similar to a class action suit filed in Chancery Court by another legal team Sunday, Jefferson said the two cases are separate and unrelated.

"While some of the issues may overlap, our issues will also take a different direction," Jefferson said.

The press conference and statements by the three families come a day after two other legal actions involving the troubled Bartlett cemetery. On Monday -- in addition to the class action lawsuit filed by attorneys Howard Manis and James Blount IV -- a Davidson County chancellor granted a petition by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance seeking oversight of the operation. The oversight includes reconciling the cemetery company's finances, determining accuracy of burial records and providing service to people who have bought preneed burial services at Galilee.

Chancellor Carol McCoy expects the receiver to ask for authority to disinter and reinter the remains of people who may have been improperly buried. Former U.S. Atty. David Kustoff will be named deputy receiver -- the local person overseeing efforts to clear up the troubles at Galilee.

The class action lawsuits come as owner Jemar Lambert continues to face criminal charges in association with practices under his watch at Galilee. Lambert, 38, was charged Jan. 24 with theft over $1,000 and abuse of a corpse in connection with three bodies reportedly being buried in the same grave last March. The criminal investigation gained momentum after directors at two funeral homes -- one in Memphis and the other in Little Rock -- reported seeing gruesome activities at Galilee, including plots with multiples bodies and employees digging up graves trying and opening caskets to to determine who was buried there. While most are concentrating on activities at Galilee since it lost its license in December, 2010, Jefferson said they are looking back to 1993, which would carry questionable practices back to the days when Galilee was run by Jesse Lambert, Jemar's father.

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Angela Watkins, Regina Simmons and Charles Branch, all with questions about family members buried at Galilee, appeared at the press conference. All said the revelations about the cemetery and unknowns about the location of their family members disturb them. Several quietly cried as they talked about their relatives not resting in peace.

They recounted stories of never seeing relatives put in the grave. Instead, they were told to leave and the body would be moved to its proper place later. Jefferson contended family members were not allowed to remain for the lowering of the body to keep secret what was going on at Galilee.

"We believe that's why family members were told 'you need to leave' because if the family members could not see the lowering of the body, they would (not) see that another casket was there," Jefferson said.

Charles Branch said he thought he knew where his mother, Pearlie, was buried by the grave marker placed at the spot. However, when he and other relatives returned later, the marker was on the opposite side of an adjacent driveway.

"Why would the do that?" Branch asked.

"It's been real hard for my family once we found out they were stacking bodies," Branch said. "We as a family feel that everybody that's involved should be accountable for their part in this body stacking.

"It's not about money to us," he added. "It's more about is my mother at rest?"

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(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at www.commercialappeal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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