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Smith Bizzell Funeral Home

A Lake Superior Court judge has denied a Gary funeral home’s request to exhume a stillborn’s remains, a move aimed at challenging paternity rights in a 2015 lawsuit against the business.

Wyatt Puryear’s son, Marcus Puryear, was identified as one of two fetuses stored for years at Smith Bizzell Funeral Home in Gary. After learning of the news from the funeral home, Puryear sued.

The former and current owners of Smith Bizzell Funeral Home in Gary — E.R.W. Enterprises Inc. and LSC Indiana Corp. — had asked a judge overseeing the ongoing court case to approve an exhumation of the remains found improperly stashed in the building’s ceiling in 2014.

Gathering DNA in the three-year-old lawsuit was an attempt to disprove or ensure Wyatt Puryear was the paternal father of Marcus Puryear, records show.

In issuing his denial Tuesday, Lake Superior Judge Bruce Parent said the court found the defendants improperly placed the burden to establish paternity on Wyatt Puryear and failed to rebut the presumption he is the father.

Parent ruled the defendants provided the court “with nothing more than speculation” in their attempts to challenge the presumption that Puryear is the stillborn’s father.

Indiana statute provides that a man is presumed to be the child’s biological father “if the man and the child’s mother are or have been married to each other and the child was born during the marriage or not later than 300 days after the marriage is terminated,” according to the judge’s order.

Attorney Kevin Smith, who represents Wyatt Puryear, said Thursday the judge’s order is appropriate because there is no basis in Indiana law for allowing for the exhumation.

“We’re pleased with the court’s decision as we continue to pursue justice for him,” Smith said.

The defense team had argued an identifying metal tag found on the stillborn in 2012 is the only evidence that Wyatt Puryear is the father. They had requested the remains be tested for DNA evidence and that Wyatt Puryear submit a comparison sample.

Angela Jones, another attorney representing Puryear, previously described the request as “horrific and gruesome” in court papers.

The ongoing lawsuit alleges the funeral home failed to properly bury the remains of the boy, did not file a certificate of fetal death and did not properly care for the remains.

Wyatt Puryear paid the funeral home for the preparation and burial of his son and even attended a service at the cemetery, his attorneys argued.

A jury trial has been set for May 6. 

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.