Renewed Effort to Stop the Sale of "Murderabilia"

There's a renewed effort in the federal government to put a stop to what's known as murderabilia. Texas Senator John Cornyn is the author of a bill that would prevent incarcerated felons from making a profit off of their personal belongings and art. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Other bills outlawing murderabilia, including a version known as the Son of Sam law, have been ruled unconstitutional in the past. Senator John Cornyn says this legislation will take advantage of interstate commerce laws to prevent convicts from using the internet and mail to sell items.

"When you're convicted of a heinous crime, as these individuals have been, you forfeit some of your rights. And one of those rights that you forfeit is the right to profit from your crime. And that's exactly what this legislation would be designed to do, is to prevent them from profiting, or anyone really, not just the criminal but anyone from profiting from that crime."

Murderabilia is a term coined several years ago by Andy Kahan, a Houston victims' rights advocate. Kahan is the director of the Mayor's Crime Victims Assistance Division. He says there are a number of websites that sell inmates' tangible goods like autographs, artwork and even hair and fingernail clippings.

"When your loved one is murdered, there's nothing more nauseating and disgusting than to find out the person who murdered one of your family members now has items being hocked by third parties. It's just an absolute gut-wrenching despicable practice that needs to be stopped. And as much as I'm a firm believer in free enterprise and capitalism, you've got the draw the line somewhere and this is where the buck stops. You shouldn't be able to rob, rape and murder and then turn around and make a buck of it."

Kahan successfully lobbied eBay to discontinue the sale of such items on the popular auction site. Since then, a number of independent sites were created to market the items. Some of the most notorious killers have sold or auctioned their goods online. Charles Manson's fingerprints, sketches by Houston serial killer Anthony Shore. Joanna Semander says her family was shocked when they discovered a site selling a letter written by serial killer Coral Eugene Watts. Watts killed her sister Elena in 1982.

"There are real victims in this country who are relying on people like Senator Cornyn to take a stand against these parasitic dealers."

Senator Cornyn's bill will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Some critics of the legislation say the wording is too broad and would prevent convicts from mailing some belongings to family members and business associates. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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