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Legal professionals weigh in on Oneida cemetery controversy

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ONEIDA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Emotions are still running high in Oneida after families at St. Patrick’s Cemetery found memorials ripped off loved ones’ graves and dumped.

“It’s just very disturbing to just rip things off of a grave without any notice,” said Jessica Glynn, who has family buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

The only notice that was given was posted on the church’s bulletin.

“People outside of the church and people who don’t go to church, we weren’t informed,” said Glynn.

But experts say legally, they don’t have to.

“There’s no requirement under the Religious Corporations Law that St. Patrick’s would have to comply with here. But if St. Patrick, while they were removing the items, broke some of the items, a family can file a claim against them,” said Nicholas Marricco, an associate attorney with Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Manhattan Office.

This can be done through small claims court.

Marricco says cemeteries legally have full discretion to remove items from gravesites, and it’s more than likely found in the contract families must sign when burying their loved ones.

“99% of them will have a provision that the cemetery can just simply remove objects from the gravesites,” said Marricco.

Marricco says even though you’re burying a loved one, that doesn’t mean you’re buying the property.

“So if you’re buried underground, you do not buy that plot of land. You only buy the right to be buried in the plot of land,” said Marricco.

Many people are also wondering why the cemetery only removed memorials from certain graves while others were left untouched.

“I’m going to go up and look for myself probably this weekend, and I’ll call the caretakers and ask them to get these things that they overlooked,” said Jim Cronn, association president at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

While others are still upset about the way the cemetery handled the removal after many items were found damaged. However, Cronn says many of the items that were removed were already broken.

“As I look through the cemetery, a lot of these statues and things were broken before we ever touched them, and that was part of the problem, some of this stuff was broken and tipped over and just looked very unsightly. I know our caretakers; I’ve been working with them for many years and these gentlemen would not intentionally break anything that was on those graves. That just did not happen. Now, could it have inadvertently happened? I can’t say it that it couldn’t, but they certainly would not have done that intentionally. We try to be respectful of people’s things,” said Cronn.

Cronn says the items that were overlooked will be added to the existing pile next to the cemetery’s maintenance shed until around May 1.

“I asked the caretakers to give people an extra week or two to get their things if they want to retrieve them. If it’s just old artificial flowers and things, we’ll dispose of those things in a landfill,” said Cronn.

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