ALBANY -- A family that loses a loved one in New York to domestic violence will no longer face the additional anger and heartache of seeing a spouse who is suspected of murder controlling the victim's burial.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Monday that they have agreed on legislation that would end the power of abusive spouses to dictate what happens to the bodies of the wives or husbands they're accused of killing.

The change was pushed in part by relatives of Constance Shepherd, whose husband had slashed her throat, then refused to release her body in 2009. Eventually, Shepherd had his attorney bury her remains hundreds of miles from her western New York home, near his favorite fishing spot, outraging her family.

"Slayer laws" go back decades in several states to prohibit murderers from making funeral arrangements for spouses they've killed. Such laws primarily prohibit murderers from collecting life insurance claims, estates and other benefits because of their victims' deaths, but often limit the power to hold the funeral for spouses as well, said Mai Fernandez of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Under New York's current health law, the surviving spouse has primary control over the deceased's funeral arrangements, regardless of the manner of death.

New York's new bill is part of a package that would create a felony of aggravated family offense based on repeated misdemeanor arrests in domestic violence cases, facing no more than 1 year in the local jail for each conviction. Currently, a perpetrator could be arrested for countless misdemeanors without facing a state prison sentence. -- AP

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