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Skull-Smuggling Case to End in Plea Bargain

April 01, 2006|Brian Haas | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Attorneys agreed on a deal Friday that would allow a woman accused of smuggling a human skull into the country in her carry-on bag to plead guilty and possibly avoid deportation.

Myrlene Severe, a 30-year-old Haitian national and voodoo priestess, had been charged by federal authorities with smuggling a human head without proper documentation, failing to declare the skull to customs, and transporting hazardous materials, all felonies.

Her attorney Kenneth Hassett announced a deal Friday in federal court that would allow her to plead guilty at an April 12 hearing to a misdemeanor charge of improper storage of human remains.

"I would have preferred that they just dismissed the charge," Hassett said outside the courtroom. "Ms. Severe did not want to risk going to trial."

Customs officials detained Severe, who lives in Miramar, Fla., Feb. 8 on her return to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport from Haiti. Authorities said they found a human skull in her bag. She told authorities she planned to use the skull in voodoo ceremonies. Practitioners of voodoo, a religion with roots in Haiti, worship spirits that they believe can heal and provide guidance.

Alicia Valle, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to detail why prosecutors agreed to the deal.

"The plea agreement in this case accurately reflects the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct and severity of the case," Valle said in an e-mail statement.

The deal allows Severe to avoid up to 15 years in prison by pleading guilty to a law designed to regulate the treatment of human remains by funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries. She will face less than a year in jail, probation and fines.

A misdemeanor conviction would be less likely to lead to deportation, Hassett said. Severe, a legal Florida resident since 2000, risked almost certain expulsion had she been convicted of a felony, he said. "Her immigration attorney has agreed with us that this is as good as it's going to get," Hassett said.

Hassett said Severe made a mistake and had learned from her arrest. He said she continues to practice voodoo.

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