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Mom says county 'pulverized' Calif. girl's remains

Friday - 1/10/2014, 7:10pm  ET

FILE: In this file photo from Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, San Joaquin Sheriff deputies search for human remains near a well on an abandoned cattle ranch near Linden, Calif. A federal judge in Northern California is considering an argument that San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore was negligent for using heavy machines to excavate the well for the remains of murder victims. Joan Shelley, the mother of a 16-year-old girl who is a suspected victim of serial killers Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog a.k.a. the notorious “Speed Freak Killers,” said the sheriff's office assured her the bodies would be exhumed with care. Shelley said in court papers she was "shocked" and "horrified" her daughter's remains were dug up with heavy machinery. Shelley and two of her daughters are suing the county and the sheriff, saying the bones of 16-year-old JoAnn Hobson were destroyed and commingled with those of other victims. (AP Photo/The Record, Craig Sanders)

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal judge in Northern California is considering a lawsuit filed by the mother of a girl whose remains were found at the bottom of a well during the investigation of the so-called "Speed Freak Killers" case.

The mother of 16-year-old JoAnn Hobson, who vanished in 1985, accuses San Joaquin County and Sheriff Steve Moore of mishandling the remains by ordering deputies to dig them up with heavy, earth-moving equipment in 2012. A hands-on archaeological approach should have been taken, the suit says.

The sheriff's approach "chewed up, pulverized, destroyed, crushed and commingled" the remains, attorney Mark Connely argued in court documents.

Months after the excavation, Moore's office gave Hobson's mother, Joan Shelley, the remains commingled with those of at least three other victims found in the well near Linden, a rural town about 50 miles south of Sacramento. The sheriff deprived Shelley of a proper burial for her daughter, Connely said.

"Certainly, it's a longstanding cultural religious thing to want to bury your loved one," Connely told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

The sheriff's attorney defended the deputies' actions in court records, saying anything they did in the course of their work to upset Hobson's mother was unintentional, and they should not be held liable.

The case, filed nearly a year ago, stems from a 15-year, methamphetamine-fueled killing spree by Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog. The two boyhood friends, who grew up together in Linden, were arrested in 1999. Prosecutors believe they killed as many as 19 people.

Shermantine two years ago began sending letters and maps from death row revealing the burial places. Herzog later committed suicide while released on parole but living under tight supervision.

U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. on Thursday heard arguments on the question of whether the mother or the sheriff held property rights to the girl's remains.

The judge asked attorney Mark Berry, who represents the sheriff, to provide a status report by Jan. 21 on any related criminal investigation stemming from the recovery effort.

The remains of a woman and a fetus also recovered from the well have yet to be identified. Deputy Les Garcia, a spokesman for the sheriff, said Friday the investigation is ongoing.

The suit does not specify the damages sought.

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