Tucson man’s body remains in cold storage one year after death


James David Ghostley, with his life partner and his young daughter [Photo from GoFundMe.com]

Whether the remains of a Tucson man who died last year should be cremated or buried, and who should make that decision will be addressed by the Arizona Court of Appeals in January.

James David Ghostley, 30, died unexpectedly in October 2018. He was in a long-term romantic relationship with the mother of his young daughter, but the couple was not married. Under Arizona law that meant Ghostley’s divorced parents had equal say in determining what to do with his body.

The parents couldn’t agree on cremation or burial, so the father, David Carl Ghostley of Alabama, asked a Pima County judge to approve cremation. He and the son’s girlfriend testified Ghostley told them he wanted to be cremated although there was no written will or after-life directive.

However, Ghostley’s mother Valerie Rundell of Florida told Judge Cynthia Kuhn that as a practitioner of Messianic Judaism she believes a body must be buried after death. She also testified that cremation would cause her an emotional hardship as it was a sin against God.

Kuhn granted the father’s request on Nov. 2, 2018, ordering the cremains split between the parents. But a few days later the judge stayed that order to allow Rundell time to appeal. In the meantime, Ghostley’s body was embalmed and has been in cold storage at a Tucson funeral home ever since.

Rundell’s attorney Kristina Reeves filed the appeal in April after which the father wrote his own answer to the court. Then in July the court took the rare step of appointing a pro bono attorney to represent the father.

“Upon review of the record and briefing, this court, through its pro bono coordinator, has determined that the appointment of pro bono counsel in this appeal, pursuant to the Court of Appeals Pro Bono Representation Program, would benefit the court’s review of this appeal, including, but not limited to, issues that relate to A.R.S. §§ 32-1365.02, 36-831, and 36-831.01,” the order reads. “This court, by this order, expresses no opinion as to the merits of this appeal.”

The pro bono attorney, Bradley Pollack, has until Dec. 6 to refile an answer on the father’s behalf.  Oral arguments in the case are open to the public and will take place at 2 p.m. on Jan. 8 at 400 West Congress Street, Suite 200, in Tucson.

An audio link to the proceeding will be available the next day on the court’s website https://www.appeals2.az.gov/apl2.cfm