Headstone now marks North Texas grave of ‘sweet sister’

01/20/2014 4:45 PM

01/20/2014 8:45 PM

They were not related, but to her close friends, Jo Beth Marchand was undoubtedly family.

Homeless for seven years and with no living relatives, the mentally challenged woman had moved from a Fort Worth shelter into an apartment of her own with the help of the friends she had met through church — lawyer Linda Tarwater and social worker Terri Byrd.

She so loved her friends that she proudly introduced the two women to others as her sisters.

“It meant a lot for her to have family because she didn’t have any,” Tarwater said.

Monday morning, a little more than two years after the women found Marchand slain inside her apartment, her two “sisters” gathered at Marchand’s grave site at Skyview Memorial cemetery in Mansfield, watching as workers set in place a marble headstone for Marchand’s previously unmarked grave.

The marker was purchased through the state’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.

“I just wanted her to know that she wasn’t forgotten,” said Tarwater, who had applied to the state seeking funding for the grave marker. “She’s still in my heart. I think about her often.”

A burial policy but no headstone

A few years before her death, Marchand had used her recently obtained disability back pay to purchase a burial policy at the urging of Byrd.

“I had no idea when I was talking to her about it that this would happen,” Byrd said. “I had no idea.”

On Dec. 2, 2011, concerned they couldn’t reach Marchand, Byrd and Tarwater went to her apartment south of downtown Fort Worth and unlocked it to find the normally tidy woman’s mattress on the floor just inside the front door and furniture moved around.

Inside their friend’s bedroom closet, Tarwater found the 59-year-old woman’s body wrapped in a comforter. She had been strangled and raped, and her apartment was burglarized.

James Wesley Brooks Jackson, whose fingerprints and DNA were found by police inside Marchand’s apartment, was convicted March 1 of capital murder in the case. Because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, he was automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Now 44, Jackson is currently incarcerated at the Allan B. Polunsky prison unit in Livingston.

Marchand’s funeral was held at the Brown Owens & Brumley chapel.

Mike Myers, pastor and director of Beautiful Feet Ministries, where Marchand attended church, led the service. Flowers adorned Marchand’s white casket.

“We had a lovely funeral service,” Tarwater recalled. “Because of the circumstances, [the funeral home] went above and beyond.”

But Marchand’s burial policy didn’t include a headstone for her grave site.

“Somehow, the thought of her being buried and no one even knowing who she was and where she was buried was really bothering me,” Tarwater said.

Help from the state

Tarwater and Byrd considered taking up donations but were shocked to learn that even a simple marker can cost upward of $2,000.

“It was so much more expensive than we thought,” Tarwater said.

So Tarwater checked to see if a headstone might be covered under the state’s Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, then set about the process of requesting it.

Convicted offenders pay into the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund through court costs, fees and fines. The fund, created by the 1979 Texas Legislature and now administered by the attorney general’s office, reimburses victims for certain out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of violent crime.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year ending Aug. 31, more than $57 million was paid out to victims of crime across the state, according to the program’s annual report.

In Tarrant County, crime victims received $3.98 million from the fund during the fiscal year, the report states.

Upon approving Tarwater’s request, the state sent about $1,800 directly to the cemetery to cover the marker’s cost.

“I’m just excited that finally we can have something to put on her grave to honor her life,” Byrd said.

Tarwater and Byrd picked out the marble marker, which reads, “Sweet Sister, Jo Beth Marchand” and includes engraved angels on either side.

“She was a sweet little angel,” Tarwater said. “We wanted it to reflect her and show she affected our lives.”

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