Man inspires legislation for stricter penalties after thieves steal from his wife’s grave

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CONWAY COUNTY, Ark.- A man who was frustrated with thieves stealing from his wife’s gravesite decided to take action and pursue stricter penalties for people who commit this kind of offense. 

Wade Ledbetter only has memories of his late wife, Ruth.  She died at just 26 years old in April of 2017.  

The couple had been married only four months before her death.  Since then, Wade has decorated her grave site as a way to keep her spirit alive. 

Last July he noticed things started to go missing from her grave.

“I went up there and I noticed a lot of stuff that I just put out was missing and that’s what started the ball rolling on this,” says Ledbetter. 

He started researching and found out there wasn’t a dedicated law for this type of theft and he certainly wasn’t the only one going through this. 

“I just keep thinking about the hundreds of people that this affects every year,” says Ledbetter.  “I had 63 people contact me, and I stopped counting, to tell me this happened to them.”

He reached out to State Rep. Rick Beck who drafted a bill that would impose a criminal penalty for theft of decorative or memorial items from a cemetery or grave site. 

The first offense would be a misdemeanor, beyond that, a felony. 

Ledbetter says the bill is a step in the right direction and he hopes if it passes people will think twice before stealing from the dead. 

“It’s disheartening that people will even go to such a solemn place to do that kind of stuff,” says Ledbetter.  “It’s cowardly and callous.” 

Rep. Beck says there has been some push back about the bill with lawmakers wanting him to set a value on items stolen and concern over those who clean up the cemetery being charged.  

Last week it passed the House and Monday it passed the Senate Judiciary committee.  

It should be headed to the Senate floor later this week.  

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