MONTEVIDEO - A monument that four siblings placed on their mother's gravesite, only to have it removed by their father and older brother and replaced by another with a fire and brimstone Biblical passage aimed at them, must be returned.
District Judge Thomas Van Hon ordered that the monument placed by the siblings on the gravestone of their mother, Sandra Albrecht, in the Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Montevideo be returned. The order filed on Friday also allows the siblings to remove the monument that their father, John Wendell Albrecht, 75, and oldest son, John Darron Albrecht, 49, placed on the gravesite in its place.
The second marker includes a passage in Revelations referring to the "fiery lake of burning sulfur.'' It's a passage that John W. Albrecht used to threaten his children throughout the time they were growing up on a farm, the judge pointed out in his order.
The order follows a two-day civil trial July 19-20, during which the judge heard what he termed compelling testimony of spiritual, verbal and physical abuse by Albrecht against his wife and children.
Siblings Deb Grussing and Cal, Jasen and Lane Albrecht filed the civil lawsuit seeking to have the monument returned to the gravesite. The four are among 11 children in the family; Albrecht considers nine of them as estranged and referred to them as "the others" during the trial.
Lane Albrecht said he and his siblings are thankful the judge was able to see the spiritual abuse they suffered and "shed light on something that was dark for so long." The justice they sought - and won - was to honor the memory of their mother, he said.
According to testimony at the trial, Albrecht prevented the nine siblings from having any contact with their mother and were not informed of her failing health. She died at home on July 24, 2016, at age 74 of cancer without having received any medical care.
Until fleeing on their own, the siblings testified that their father isolated the family on the farm he moved them to in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The children were not allowed any medical or dental check ups and carried cards stating they were not to receive medical care. Their mother had her last few pregnancies at this time, and did not receive any prenatal care during these pregnancies and had unattended births at home, the judge found.
At the trial's conclusion, Judge Van Hon ruled in favor of the four siblings and ordered their father and older brother to repay them for the marker. He also ordered the father to pay each plaintiff $11,000 for inflicting emotional distress and interfering with their sepulture rights to mourn their mother. John D. Albrecht, who assisted his father in removing and concealing the gravestone on their remote farm site, was also ordered to pay each plaintiff $2,000.
The siblings did not file an amendment to their lawsuit that would have allowed them to collect punitive damages in the case.
The gravestone marker they purchased was discovered missing after witnesses saw John W. and John D. Albrecht leave the cemetery pulling a trailer on April 12, 2017. The marker was later recovered by law enforcement officers. It was hidden under leaves and debris in a remote location on the farm. John W. and John D. Albrecht entered Alford pleas to theft charges for its taking.
During the civil trial, testimony by funeral home Director Everett Bain indicated that Albrecht accepted the placement of the marker purchased by the siblings. Albrecht expressed relief that they had taken responsibility for the costs for the marker and funeral home services, according to the testimony. The judge found that by his comments to the funeral home director, Albrecht had accepted a contract that allowed for the marker.