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Arlington accepts killer's ashes

August 04, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

The cremated remains of a man who died in prison while serving two life sentences for the murders of a Hagerstown couple on Valentine's Day 1994 were placed at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors during a service July 27.

When told Wednesday that Russell Wayne Wagner, 52, had been convicted for the murders of two people, Lori Calvillo, public affairs officer for Arlington National Cemetery, expressed shock.

Calvillo was asked what would prevent someone from being placed at the cemetery.

"That would usually prevent you, to tell you the truth," she said, referring to Wagner's conviction.

Calvillo then placed the call on hold for a few minutes. Shortly after returning to the call, and after checking Wagner's file, she said, "I'm not sure what's gonna happen now."

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She said that the cemetery had no paperwork indicating Wagner's conviction, but said that a felony conviction would keep someone from having a service there.

"Without someone bringing this to our attention or having paperwork ... We did not know," she said.

Wagner was sentenced in October 2002 by Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III to serve two consecutive life sentences for the Feb. 14, 1994, murders of Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, at their West Wilson Boulevard home, according to published reports.

Wagner was found unresponsive in his single cell at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup, Md., on Feb. 2 and efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, Maryland Division of Correction Spokesman George Gregory said. His body wasn't released from the prison until Feb. 7, Gregory said.

Calvillo said Wagner was an Army Private 1st Class who served from Sept. 13, 1969, to Sept. 1, 1972, and was discharged honorably, a qualification for the cemetery's columbarium service. A columbarium is a structure for cremated remains.

Requirements to have a ground burial at Arlington National Cemetery are more stringent, she said.

The service was authorized June 29 at the request of Wagner's sister, Karen Anderson, Calvillo said. Anderson is listed as Wagner's sister in a published obituary of their sister, Marian G. Stull, who died July 25 at Washington County Hospital.

Attempts to reach Anderson were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Vernon Davis of Hagerstown, Daniel's and Wilda's son, said he heard a rumor the day of the service that Wagner's ashes were going to be at Arlington, but he wasn't sure it was true.

"It disturbed me when I heard it ...," he said Wednesday night. "I thought it was completely wrong."

Davis said he didn't complain because he thought he had no recourse.

Davis said he served in the U.S. Army in 1962 and 1963 in El Paso, Texas. He said he was sent to Miami during the Cuban Missile Crisis and once was in an honor guard for President John F. Kennedy at the airport in El Paso.

Calvillo said that if the cemetery receives confirmation of Wagner's conviction, the records would be forwarded to the Army General Counsel, which reviews laws for the cemetery.

Wagner's cremated remains were carried in an urn by a soldier, accompanied by a group of soldiers, to a columbarium.

The service, which included a bugler who played taps, a firing party that gave Wagner a three-shot salute, and the traditional folding and unfolding of the American flag, was July 27 at 10 a.m., Calvillo said.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld Wagner's conviction in January, saying Wright did not abuse his discretion in allowing mitochondrial DNA evidence to be used against Wagner, according to published reports.

A Washington County jury convicted Wagner in August 2002 of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of burglary, The Herald-Mail has reported.

Daniel and Wilda Davis were found dead in their 109 W. Wilson Blvd. home Feb. 15, 1994. Both were found bound and stabbed multiple times, records state.

- Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story

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