By Marice Richter
FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - The owner of a Fort Worth mortuary where corpses were left to rot for months will spend two years in prison for taking payments from clients and failing to provide funeral services, a jury decided on Thursday.
The Fort Worth jury that convicted Dondre Johnson, 41, on Wednesday of two counts of felony theft sentenced him to two years' imprisonment plus a $10,000 fine for each count. He will serve his prison terms concurrently and will not be eligible for parole, authorities said.
"This case was about greed,” said prosecutor Sid Mody.
"Mr. Johnson was playing a Ponzi scheme with human flesh. We’re happy with the jury’s decision and hope this can bring some type of closure to all the victims in the case."
Johnson operated the Johnson Family Mortuary with his wife, Rachel Hardy-Johnson, 36. His lawyers said his wife was to blame for what went wrong.
“Dondre was looking forward to his day in court and a fair trial and he didn't get that,” his attorney, Alex Kim, said.
Kim said Johnson filed for an appeal shortly after the sentence was announced.
Hardy-Johnson faces the same charges and will be tried separately. She pleaded guilty to food stamp benefit fraud this year and is serving a 21-month sentence in federal prison.
Fort Worth police arrested the pair after finding eight decomposing bodies in the mortuary in July 2014.
Families of the deceased had paid for the bodies to have been cremated. But the corpses, those of six adults and two infants, were instead left unattended for up to several months in rooms without air conditioning in the hot Texas summer, officials said. The Tarrant County medical examiner's office said all the corpses were in an advanced state of decomposition.
Building landlord Jim Labenz testified that he discovered the bodies during an eviction process and said the stench in the mortuary was so bad he had to put a wet rag to his face to enter the building.
(Reporting by Marice Richter; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)