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Jennings Sunday: Widow's headstone lawsuit going to court

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The lawsuit filed by a Commiskey widow to have her late husband’s headstone erected at a Catholic cemetery near Hayden might be settled a few months from now in a Franklin courtroom.

Special Judge K. Mark Loyd of Johnson County has scheduled a June 14 hearing in the case of Shannon Carr vs. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis Properties Inc.

Carr spent $9,600 on a black granite headstone to mark the grave of her husband, Jason Carr, who died in an August 2009 automobile accident. The headstone is shaped like a couch and features images of a deer, a dog and color logos of NASCAR and the Indianapolis Colts.

However, a committee at St. Joseph Catholic Church voted in 2010 not to allow the headstone to be installed because it promoted secular values and didn’t meet the cemetery’s standards.

Church officials said Carr was notified of their decision several weeks before she purchased the monument. However, Carr claims the church never produced any regulations until more than a year after she tried to have the headstone installed.

The archdiocese is arguing that it’s unconstitutional for the court to force the church to accept the headstone. On Feb. 21, its attorney asked Judge Loyd to make a judgment on the merits of Carr’s argument.

One week later, Carr’s attorney, Stephanie Mellenbruch, asked for a 60-day extension to form a response to the church’s motion.

On March 19, Loyd gave both sides 60 days to “serve a response, submit opposing affidavits or evidence.” However, he ordered that no further evidence or testimony can be submitted after May 17.

On the same day in early December that the lawsuit was filed in Jennings County, Mellenbruch requested that the case be transferred out of Vernon. After the lawsuit was moved to Bartholomew Circuit Court in Columbus, Judge Stephen Heimann asked for a special judge and Loyd was chosen.

In his March 19 order, Loyd ordered the hearing to be held in his own courtroom in Franklin, rather than in Columbus.

The case has sparked international debate. After a March 3 story in The Republic was distributed by the Associated Press, several local and national media outlets began reporting on the lawsuit.

The Jennings County story has been featured on CNN, ABC, National Public Radio and in newspapers from California to England.

Several websites dedicated to motor sports and sports enthusiasts also have provided their readers with details on the case.

On the Fox News Network, Carr’s lawsuit was the topic of a five-minute debate March 15 during a segment hosted by news anchor and attorney Megyn Kelly.

Legal analyst Mercedes Colwin presented the merits of Carr’s arguments, while defense attorney Keith Sullivan spoke out in support of the archdiocese.

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