The Mummy’s Curse of Liability

Unwrapping 3,700 Years of Legal Analysis

The 1932 Universal Monster Classic The Mummy, tells the story of Imhotep, who was mummified alive for the crime of sacrilege for attempting to resurrect Princess Ankh-es-en-amon with Scroll of Thoth over 3,700 years ago.

Imhotep was awaken from death when an archeologist read the Scroll of Thoth in 1921. After a decade of “living” in the 20th Century, Imhotep assumed the identity Ardath Bey and directed an archeological team to find the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon. Following a failed attempt to resurrect Ankh-es-en-amon’s mummified remains failed, Imhotep learned Ankh-es-en-amon had been reincarnated multiple times and was living as Helen Grosvenor. Imhotep planned to kill Helen in a ceremony to bring Ankh-es-en-amon back as a living mummy, her soul purified of the other lives she had lived.

Let’s unwrap a few layers of the Mummy’s legal issues.

Mummifying Imhotep Was Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Imhotep’s attempt to resurrect Ankh-es-en-amon was a capital offense that was punishable by death that extended into the afterlife. Even though Imhotep’s sentence was carried out 3,500 years before the formation of the United States, the death sentence of mummifying a person alive is the exact sort of punishment the Eighth Amendment precludes.

An execution is cruel and unusual punishment if the method presents a “substantial” or “objectively intolerable” risk of serious harm. Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 40 (2008). Other courts have articulated the legal standard for determining whether a form of execution violations the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment as follows:

1) Presents a substantial risk that a prisoner will suffer unnecessary and wanton pain in an execution;

2) Violates the evolving standards of decency that mark a mature society, and

3) Minimizes physical violence and mutilation of the prisoner’s body.

State v. Mata, 275 Neb. 1, 48, 745 N.W.2d 229, 266 (2008)

The United States has a history of allowing executions, starting with hangings at the founding of the country, later firing squads, to finding the most “humane and practical” methods for executions “known to modern science.” Glossip v. Gross, 135 S. Ct. 2726, 2731 (2015). These methods have included electrocution, because it was thought to be less painful and more humane than hanging, to the gas chamber, to lethal injection. Id.

Mummifying Imhotep alive would pose an “objectively intolerable” risk of serious harm. First off, Imhotep was wrapped alive and sealed in a totally dark sarcophagus to die, either from starvation or the lack of air. It does not take an archeologist who can read hieroglyphics to see that Imhotep would suffer unnecessary and wanton pain in an execution by suffocating to death in darkness. Furthermore, the Pharaoh had the slaves who buried Imhotep killed, followed by the soldiers who killed the slaves also killed. This double digit body count would go against the evolving standards of decency that mark a mature society, where executing one man requires several dozen more to also die for national security. Finally, leaving Imhotep in total darkness to either starve or suffocate does not limit the physical violence he suffered in death.

Based on the above, “death by mummification,” would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Can Ankh-es-en-amon Be Resurrected under the Free Exercise Clause?

Imhotep illegally entered the Cairo Museum to perform a religious ceremony with the Scroll of Thoth in an attempt to resurrect Ankh-es-en-amon’s mummified remains. Imhotep murdered a guard who discovered him during the ceremony.

If this had been in the United States, the “Free Exercise Clause” under the First Amendment gives people the right to “believe and profess whatever religious doctrine one desires.” Parker v. Hurley, 514 F.3d 87, 103 (1st Cir. 2008). However, it is not a general protection of religion or religious belief. Id.

If the Free Exercise Clause is raised as a defense to a tort (in this case, trespassing), the issue is whether the defendant’s conduct was religious. Wisconsin v. Yoder, S. Ct. 1526, 1533-34 (1972). Arguably reading the Scroll of Thoth in an attempt to resurrect Ankh-es-en-amon would be a form of praying. However, the Free Exercise Clause does not shield clergy from wrongdoing or allow them to ignore laws of general applicability. See, Sanders v. Casa View Baptist Church, 898 F. Supp. 1169, 1174 (N.D. Tex. 1995). This would include trespassing and there is no religious exception to committing murder.

Praying to bring Ankh-es-en-amon back to life arguably would be protected conduct, however, that free exercise ends with intentional torts and crimes.

Desecration of a Corpse and Attempted Murder

Imhotep’s plan to kill Helen Grosvenor in order to bring Ankh-es-en-amon back as a living mummy has multiple legal problems. The first was burning Ankh-es-en-amon’s mummy, because that was desecration of a corpse. Many states recognize there is a tort for abuse or mishandling of a dead body. See, Frys v. City of Cleveland, 107 Ohio App. 3d 281, 284, (1995). The wrinkle with Ankh-es-en-amon’s mummy was it was not in its tomb, but in its sarcophagus on display at the Cairo Museum. That being said, burning the body still required it being removed from its resting place and destroyed.

Imhotep planned to murder Helen Grosvenor in order to make her a living mummy. There is no exception to murder in order to cleanse a reincarnated soul of other past lives. This would be a crime…. provided a 3,700 year old living mummy could be incarcerated on this plane of existence.

Mummy Dearest 

Imhotep is a cold and calculated killer, not just because he is a reanimated corpse. Imhotep acted with a specific intent to manipulate others for his ultimate goal of brining Ankh-es-en-amon back from the dead. The problem for Imhotep is he killed at least two people, enslaved another, committed fraud in representing who he was to the British expedition, destroyed historic artifacts of cultural significance at the Cairo Museum, and attempted to murder Helen Grosvenor. There is no legal justification for these crimes, however, the Egyptian Goddess Isis claimed jurisdiction of Imhotep’s wrongful conduct.