A man accused of dismembering his wife’s body in Missouri and carting her remains around in a cooler for several days claims he was trying to fulfill a promise he’d made to her based on their religious beliefs.
Justin Rey, 36, says he’s a Christian Scientist and that he and his wife Jessica had agreed to be buried in a spot in Arizona “that had spiritual meaning for both of them,” his defense attorney Zane Todd tells PEOPLE.
Ray is charged with two counts of child endangerment and two counts of contributing to a child’s misconduct in Johnson County, Kansas, after police allegedly discovered he and his young daughters — including the newborn — had slept in a storage unit along with the cooler in October 2017.
Rey is additionally charged with abandoning a corpse in Jackson County, Missouri.
He is not charged in connection with Jessica’s death. According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Rey offered conflicting explanations for her death after his arrest, saying that Jessica had committed suicide after giving birth but also saying she’d died during childbirth.
When being interviewed by police after his arrest, Rey allegedly said that after his wife died in the bathtub he placed her in bed and took photographs with his wife and kids.
Hotel surveillance video allegedly showed Rey pushing a stroller through the hotel, and pulling a red cooler with a black bag on top of it.
Lawyer: ‘He Did Something that Society Frowns on’
On Tuesday, Rey admitted during his testimony at a preliminary hearing in a Kansas courtroom that he’d chopped up his wife’s remains, according to the Kansas City Star.
But he said, “My family is very dear to me. It’s something I had to do to protect my family.”
Todd, his attorney, tells PEOPLE, “had previously spoken to [Jessica] and they agreed that when they died they would ultimately have a ceremony at a place in Arizona that had spiritual meaning for both of them.”
Todd adds, “He knew with his financial situation he wasn’t going to be able to take her [body] back there unless he did something drastic, and unfortunately for him he did something that society frowns on.”
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Todd says Rey was fearful that if he had called the police after his wife died, authorities would have taken away his children and would have taken his wife’s body for cremation, which goes against his religious beliefs.
“He unfortunately saw no other option,” Todd says. “He promised he would take her to this spiritual place. He has strong beliefs against cremation.”
Todd says Rey’s plan was to take his wife’s remains via rail to Arizona. He says his client was in the process of going to the Amtrak train station when police took him into custody.
Rey’s trial is scheduled for November 5. Todd has entered not guilty pleas on Rey’s behalf for the charges in Kansas.
It was not immediately clear if he has entered a plea to the charge against him in Missouri, and attorney information in that case wasn’t immediately available.
According to KCTV, Rey is a suspect in an unrelated homicide of a man who went missing in 2016. That man’s body has yet to be recovered.
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