Texas Legislators approved a bill that will enact harsher penalties for those who abuse a corpse.
The crime is currently only a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by as much as a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Senate Bill 524 will change penalties for those convicted of “abuse of a corpse,” elevating punishment from a misdemeanor to a state jail felony. All that’s left now for the bill is the governor’s signature.
The families whose loved ones were left decomposing inside the Johnson Family Mortuary in Fort Worth were among those calling for harsher penalties. The remains of Felicia Braxton's mother, Aundrea Jones, were left inside the mortuary back in 2014 — more than a month after the funeral.
"We have to do something different,” she told NBC 5 in 2015 during an emotional interview. “We have to stand together and make these changes."
A jury found Dondre Johnson, owner of the Johnson Family Mortuary, guilty of felony theft after prosecutors charged he took money for cremation services and did not deliver the remains as promised.
Bodies were found decomposing inside caskets.
Search for Mother's Ashes
Johnson told Braxton and her family they would get their mother's ashes days after the funeral. Instead, they received the ashes of another person.
After years of searching and not knowing where the remains of their mother was, Braxton received a message on Facebook — on Mother’s Day.
“I’m trying to locate Felicia Braxton, the daughter of Aundrea Jones," the message read. "She was trying to locate her mother’s remains. My family has them.”
A family in California had the ashes since 2014. They believed they were those of their own loved one.
“When she sent them back, it was the most glorious feeling that my sisters and I could ever experience," said Braxton. "It was the feeling when our mother had passed, because that was our mother and our best friend. But to have her back, in our possession, it was awesome. It was an awesome feeling."
It was a sense of closure for Braxton and her family after years of waiting.
“I'm feeling on top of the world. I feel so light, I can smile. I'm ready to get back to my normal type of life,” said Braxton.
Braxton said there are some amendments they’d like to add to the legislation at some point. They include putting a restriction on the time it takes for a family to receive remains.
Just the thought of having her mother by her side again has brought closure to an emotional three years, Braxton said.
"I'm not in a dark place, I'm a good place in life, and I'm ready to fight for other people now," said Braxton. “We want to make sure that this struggle is not in vain. This is closure for us, and at the same time it gives us more fighting power to continue to help with those families that may be struggling.”