Bush pleas first in Stair case

Dennis Bush is the first of three to go to court in Overcomer-related cases.

The Press and Standard/March 4, 2003
By Libby Roerig

Dennis Mann Bush, Jr., 37 pleaded guilty to the charge of failure to get authorization for the removal of a dead body.

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Perry Buckner sentenced Bush to 60 days in the county detention center and to pay a $500 fine plus other costs. Upon payment of the fine, the balance of the sentence is suspended with 18 months probation. Additionally, Bush was ordered to serve 100 hours community service.

State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Investigator Travis Avant learned of the illegal burial during his investigation of Stair and the Overcomer Ministry in Canadys, where Bush formerly resided, Avant said at the hearing.

Stair, a self-proclaimed prophet, preaches over AM and short-wave radio to a worldwide audience of followers and has an Internet-based ministry that crosses international lines. Stair's religious community, for which its residents must sell all their worldly possessions and sever ties with family members and friends before entering, is approximately 100 persons strong, according to reports.

In May 2002, Stair was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree and two counts of breach of trust. In July 2002, police additionally charged Stair, Bush and another follower David Maratto, 57, with the burial offenses.

Witnesses told police that Bush and Maratto buried the body of Bush's months-old infant Jonathan in February 1994 without the authorization of the coroner. It was the consensus of the elders at the Overcomer Ministry not to notify the authorities, Avant said.

Bush and his wife Anita, who have five children, say Jonathan died of a "cold that got worse," but an autopsy could not conclusively rule a cause of death because of the body's advanced decomposition, Avant said.

SLED exhumed the remains of the baby on the Overcomer's farm-like property on June 26, 2002. The child was buried near a washhouse, not in the community's regular cemetery, Avant said.

Bush was originally cited with an additional charge of unlawful burying of a body without notice or inquiry, which is a more serious offense than the misdemeanor one to which he pleaded. Through a negotiated plea agreement, Bush admitted guilt to the lesser charge and the other was nol-prossed.

Bush's charge carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and/or up to a 60-day jail sentence, but his attorney Sean Thornton of Walterboro and the Colleton County Solicitor's Office negotiated a lesser punishment, which Buckner respected when sentencing Bush.

Trained as an electrician, Bush has no known criminal record, Avant said. Bush's probation terms will be transferred to Chesterfield County. The fine must be paid within 60 days of Feb. 28, 2003.

Stair and Marrato should have a court date later this year, according to 14th Judicial Circuit Court Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh.

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