Former funeral home director acquitted of two theft charges

The disgraced funeral home director who neglected the remains of families' loved ones had part of his conviction overturned.

Dondre Johnson was convicted of four counts of theft earlier this year in May. But an appeals court acquitted him of two of those theft charges.

The granddaughter of one of those victims says she's angry.

Elizabeth Velasquez has already made peace with her grandmother's death after her body was one of several found inside the Johnson Family Mortuary in July of 2014. The bodies were found in various stages of decay.

But when Velasquez learned about the funeral director being acquitted of two charges, she said it’s opening up an old wound.

"The theft was one of the more important things because he took my money. I never saw my money again,” she said.

Johnson pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor counts of ‘abuse of corpse’ and has finished serving time on those convictions. He is currently serving time for the theft charges, taking money from families, and in many cases, not cremating the bodies or embalming them.

A Texas appeals court ruled that on one of those counts he was prosecuted criminally when he should have been taken to civil court and the other count, ruling that even though he took a check from the family and cashed it.

Johnson's wife was the one in charge of the money.

"So the allegation by the state that he took the money for himself when all he did was receive the check and deposit it — the appellate court said that doesn't hold up to theft,” explained his lawyer, Alex Kim. “He never took possession of the funds itself. He only took possession of the piece of paper, which is worth pennies"

Rachel Hardy-Johnson pleaded guilty to abuse of corpse and theft charges but is serving a nearly two-year sentence in federal prison for fraudulent use of food stamps.

"And to use that excuse that it wasn't in his hands where the money went his wife was in charge is ridiculous to me because they're husband and wife,” said Velasquez. “They were married. They were a team. They spent the money together. They took the money together."

The appeals court decision means that Dondre Johnson will be released from prison.

The Tarrant County District Attorney addressed the appeals court acquittal with a brief statement saying, “We believe the jury's verdict was correct, and we are evaluating our options to uphold that verdict."

Velasquez says this may push her family to pursue Johnson in civil court.

"It just hurts me that two years later, this case is still dragging on,” she said.

Johnson could be released as early as February.

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