PHOENIX — Half of the plaintiffs in a civil case against a Scottsdale body donation center claimed victory in court Tuesday, but the ruling did little to ease the hurt one plaintiff said.
Ten of the 21 plaintiffs were awarded $58 million in the case against Stephen Gore and his former business Biological Resource Center. The plaintiffs accused Gore of lying to them about how their loved ones' remains would be used after the bodies were donated.
The former business was ordered to pay $50 million in punitive damages and $8 million in compensatory damages.
Gwen Aloai, who was awarded $5.5 million, said her husband's donated body was dismembered and his body parts were discovered in different states.
"My heart is broken. You get to know these people throughout the trial. People I've never known before, the other plaintiffs and there are some kind, sweet, lovely people that were totally taken advantage of," Aloai said.
Aloai left the courthouse with a message for others who may be considering body donation.
"People got to be careful when they donate now. I mean these people were marketing to hospices, to hospitals, and they think they were doing it out of goodwill, the hospices and hospitals, but they didn't know and it's got to stop," Aloai said.
The lawsuit alleged that some of the families received boxes of what they believed were the cremated remains of their loved ones, but they later discovered the bodies were sold to third parties or were still at the facility.
Michael Burg, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the jury sent a message with their verdict.
"They sent a message to people like Mr. Gore and others around the country who are doing these whole body donations that if you're not going to follow the rules, if you're going to misrepresent things to people, and you're going to do things with the bodies you're not supposed to do that there's gonna be a price to pay," Burg said.
Gore's attorney declined to comment on the verdict.
A 2014 FBI raid of the facility revealed human heads in coolers and a bucket of severed male genitalia, along with other dismembered body parts.
Retired FBI agent Mark Cwynar testified to seeing torsos without arms and heads during the raid.
"The heads, arms and legs had been removed and stacked on top of each other," Cwynar said on the stand.
Cwynar also says agents recovered a head which was sewn onto what was clearly a different person's torso.
"I did observe a body that had its chest cavity opened up. Then there was a smaller head or a small head that was attached, and there was crude stitching around the neck portion that appeared to have reattached the head," Cwynar said.
Several plaintiffs also took the stand on day one of this civil trial and more are expected to tell their stories before the judge hands this case off to a jury.
The AP contributed to this report.