Legal custody of Sabrina’s body up in air with murder charges

Legal custody of the remains of Sabrina Ray, seen here in a 2012 photo, will pass to her biological family next week, according to the child's step-mother.

With first-degree murder charges now filed against Marc and Misty Ray of Perry in connection with the starvation death May 12 of their adopted daughter, Sabrina Ray, 16, the couple loses their legal right to custody of the child’s remains, according to an expert in mortuary law.

T. Scott Gilligan

T. Scott Gilligan of Cincinnati, Ohio, author of “Mortuary Law,” a textbook widely used in mortuary colleges, told that under Iowa law, if the parents or legal guardians of a child are charged with first- or second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter in the death of their child, they lose all rights regarding the disposition of the child’s remains.

“In order to lose your right, you have to be charged with murder in the first or second degree or voluntary manslaughter,” Gilligan said.

Marc and Misty Ray were originally each charged with one count of child endangerment resulting in death, four counts of child endangerment resulting in serious injury and three counts of neglect or abandonment of a dependent person.

Gilligan said custody rights pass down the lines of filial kinship.

“Depending if you were arrested for certain criminal infractions, you do lose your right of disposition,” he said, “and it then would default down through the list of priority of who holds that right.”

Karena Busch

Karena Busch, Sabrina’s step-mother, said the child’s death has been painful “because this beautiful baby girl was my husband’s and my daughter before she was ripped from our home and put with them monsters — and pray no other children or family has to go through what Sabrina had to endure and the living hell we have been living, losing a beautiful girl who was so happy and full of life.”

Sabrina was placed in foster care with the Rays in 2011 after her biological father, Joseph Busch, and Karena Busch were convicted of child endangerment. Complaints filed in the case said the Busches duct taped Sabrina’s mouth shut for days at a time and denied her food.

Joseph Busch

The Rays formally adopted Sabrina in 2013 and allegedly starved her to death in 2017. Karena Busch tries to remember the times before Sabrina was put in the custody of the Rays.

“Those are things we will never have back,” she said “but we have the pictures. We have the memories, and I just want to remember her how she was before she was wrongfully taken and put with people that killed her.”

Sabrina’s eldest sister also grew up in a group home, Her eldest brother lived with a grandfather and step-grandmother in Earlham, and her three younger brothers were placed in foster care and later adopted, according to Joseph Busch.

Sabrina’s biological aunt, Tonya Busch, said she wishes to see Sabrina buried in the family plot with her grandparents. The Perry Firefighters Association has donated money for a grave in Violet Hill Cemetery in Perry.

Sabrina’s ashes now rest in a Perry funeral home, awaiting their final disposition, possibly by order of the court.


  1. With so much terror in the world today, our hearts are heavy with grief from so many senseless deaths at the hands of mentally deranged people. This story about the death of Sabrina Ray is heartbreaking! What is wrong with people who claim to be parents? Who in their right mind would inflict such horrible pain and torture to a child or really any human being? The son who tortured her should face charges as well. Plus the biological dad and step-mom stripped of their rights because they duct taped her mouth shut for days and denied her food, but then they are complaining about her treatment from adopted parents? WTH! So many questions about the other children as well. So sad this child had to suffer till the end of her short life!


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