Trial begins for accused former mortuary owner

The trial began Wednesday for a former owner of a Fort Worth mortuary.

In court, the property owner explained how he and his business partners found the decomposing bodies last year.

The landlord testified that he discovered the bodies after he noticed a strong odor coming from the funeral home.

Prosecutors told the jury in opening statements that the bodies were decomposing and one was found mummified on a coffee table.

Dondre Johnson is on trial for theft.

In July 2014, police found eight abandoned bodies at the Johnson family mortuary. Seven of them, including the body of a baby, were in various states of decomposition.

Tarrant County prosecutors say the remains were the loved ones of families who had paid Johnson thousands of dollars to have the bodies cremated.

The state says Johnson owned the funeral home with his wife, Rachel Hardy. She’s expected to face charges later.

Landlord Jim Labenz testified that Johnson fell months behind on the rent, and the Johnsons eventually abandoned the business, leaving the bodies behind.

Desiree Williams testified that the body of the baby that was found was her son, who died moments after he was born. She believed he had been cremated.

“I didn't want him to be out by himself at a cemetery,” said Williams. “I wanted him to be cremated so he could be at home with me and his father."

Williams says she eventually received an urn with ashes.

She testified that Dondre Johnson told her they were her son's ashes, but she was suspicious because the seal on the urn had been broken, and Johnson had made several excuses about why it took so long for her to get her son's remains.

Williams says her worst fears were realized when she learned that one of the bodies that was found was a baby -- her son.

Defense attorneys say they don't dispute horrible things happened, but that Rachel Hardy owned the mortuary and not Dondre Johnson, so he had no way of paying the bills and not guilty of theft.

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