Four years after he pleaded guilty to having sex with the corpse of a 4-year-old girl, Donald Luis Cooper is, at long last, serving prison time.

In February 2003, Cooper, 32, and his girlfriend, Chaunee Marie Helm, 30, were working for All-County Transportation, driving bodies from Victor Valley Community Hospital to the county morgue in San Bernardino.

Security cameras in the morgue captured Cooper on video, sexually assaulting the body of Robyn Gillett, an Adelanto girl who had died of the flu. Helm served as a lookout.

"He's ruined our whole life," said Marlene Brown, Gillett's grandmother. "He didn't kill her -- she died of natural causes -- but he made things so much worse than it should have been."

Brown began crying as she thought about what had happened to her granddaughter.

"It was five years ago, but it seems like only yesterday," she said.

Cooper was not charged with necrophilia, because at the time, having sex with a dead person was not illegal under California law.

"I got a call from both [San Bernardino County District Attorney] Mike Ramos and Sheriff [Gary] Penrod because of this situation," said Assemblywoman Sharon Runner. "They were both looking at the penal code and couldn't find anything to charge him with, other than some health and safety code violations."

Runner introduced Robyn's Law, which would make necrophilia a crime, but it stalled in the legislature.

"It's kind of like 'oh, well, that doesn't happen very often, we don't have to have a law on the books.' Just once is enough," she said. "They should have had him register as a sex offender the rest of his life, and they took that out of the bill in the first committee hearing."

The next year, with another necrophilia case in Northern California making headlines, the law passed, setting a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison.

In the meantime, Cooper and Helm were charged with felony mutilation of human remains. In September 2003, the pair made plea agreements. Helm received a one-year county jail sentence, minus time served.

Cooper pleaded guilty to Mutilating Grave Remains. He received a suspended two-year prison sentence. If he kept his nose clean for the five years of his probation, he wouldn't have to serve any additional jail time beyond the time he spent waiting for trial.

But it didn't work out that way for him.

On December 3, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputies were called to a house on the 7700 block of Victor Avenue in Hesperia. Witnesses had spotted three small children playing in the street outside.

Deputy Jeff Farrar arrived at the house and found the children's mother, Angel Rice, 27, inside, along with her five children, ranging in age from 2 to 10 years old. In total, there were seven children, four adults and 31 animals in the three-bedroom house, all in "extremely unsanitary and uninhabitable" conditions, according to a sheriff's department release. Child Protective Services and Hesperia Code Enforcement were called to the house, which was full of trash and feces.

"There were animal feces and urine on the floor, in the children's room, the living room," said code enforcement supervisor Tony Genovesi. "There were feces on the wall. The odor was terrible. ... Any time you have animals that are defecating inside the house and urinating inside the house, the odor's pretty bad."

One of the four adults arrested was Cooper, now 37, Rice's boyfriend. He was charged with seven counts of willful cruelty to a child with the possibility of injury or death. Eight days later, those charges were dismissed and he pleaded no contest to a single count of cruelty to animals. That violated his probation and Cooper's two-year prison sentence was suspended no more.

"Based on that, his probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to two years in prison, with credit for 351 days he had served in the past," said Supervising Deputy District Attorney Gary Roth.

Between the 235 days he served in jail while awaiting trial, and 116 days credit for good conduct, Cooper will serve only a maximum of 379 days of his two-year term.

"He basically has about another year to go in prison," Roth said.

Cooper will serve out the remainder of his sentence at the California Institution for Men in Chino. He will be released by December 24, 2008, less with good behavior.

"The guy shouldn't be around children," said Runner. She's now working on increasing the penalties for necrophilia to a maximum of 8 years in prison and will require those convicted of the crime to register as a sex offender. "He should be registered as a sex offender right now."

Cooper going to jail four years later is better than nothing, according to Gillett's grandmother.

"It would have helped a lot more if he had gone right away," Brown said. "Her dignity was taken away, even in death. ... I don't think he should have had all this free time to walk around and live his life."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.