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Arlington to allow killer's remains to stay

August 06, 2005|By PEPPER BALLARD and ANDREW SCHOTZ

pepperb@herald-mail.com

andrews@herald-mail.com

A convicted double murderer's ashes were properly placed at Arlington National Cemetery and will stay there, a U.S. Army spokeswoman said Friday.

The spokeswoman, Martha Rudd, was responding to questions and criticism about the appropriateness of the military cemetery, which the Army oversees, accepting Russell Wayne Wagner's ashes.

Wagner was convicted in 2002 of murdering Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, at their West Wilson Boulevard home in Hagerstown. He was sentenced to consecutive life sentences.

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Wagner died in prison in February. On July 27, a service was held at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to place his ashes in a columbarium, or urn vault, with standard military honors.

Wagner's sister, Karen Anderson, requested it, cemetery spokeswoman Lori Calvillo has said. As a private 1st class in the Army from 1969 to 1972, honorably discharged, Wagner qualified, Calvillo has said.

The Davises' son, Vernon, and daughter, Virginia, have said they were surprised that Wagner's ashes went to Arlington and want them removed.

But Rudd said Friday, "Mr. Wagner was eligible for inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery in accordance with the law and Army policy. There is no authority to remove his remains."

Rudd pointed to the only interment and memorial exceptions outlined in U.S. Code. The person must have been: convicted of a federal capital crime and sentenced to death or life imprisonment; convicted of a state capital crime and sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole; or found to have committed a federal or state capital crime but not convicted because of death or flight to avoid prosecution.

In 2002, Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III granted Wagner a chance at parole, but said Wagner would be in his 80s, at least, if he got it.

Told Friday of the Army's decision, Virginia Davis said, "It's not right. He murdered my mother and daddy. He's a murderer."

Davis said she'll fight to have his ashes removed.

"We'll go to a senator, I guess," she said.

Calvillo said Wednesday that convictions such as Wagner's would "usually prevent" someone from an Arlington service. Rudd would not comment on that statement on Friday.

Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman, said Friday that Wagner died Feb. 7, when he was found unresponsive in his Maryland House of Correction Annex cell in Jessup, Md.

The state medical examiner's office ruled Wagner died from heroin intoxication.

Ronn Wade, director of Maryland's State Anatomy Board, said Friday his office took custody of Wagner's unclaimed body on Feb. 15 from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which performed the autopsy.

That same day, in an e-mail, Bill Anderson, Wagner's brother-in-law, asked for the ashes, saying the family couldn't afford a funeral.

Wade can release bodies, but said his office is "not a cremation service." He told Anderson there had to be a plan.

The next day, Wade said, Anderson sent another e-mail. It said Wagner's other sister, Marian Stull, was a diabetic invalid and the family was "planning to have a memorial service for Russell in the hospital chapel and then dispose of the ashes as (Stull) wishes."

He was told Stull "would like to scatter the ashes in her hometown."

Stull died at Washington County Hospital, two days before Wagner's July 27 service, according to her obituary.

Wade said he honored their request as a "humanitarian" gesture and waived the fee, which usually is $200. Wagner's body was cremated March 12 and his ashes were sent via certified mail to Karen Anderson in Silver Spring, Md.

"Nowhere had they said he was going to be interred at Arlington," Wade said.

He said if he had known Wagner's ashes were going to Arlington, "I would not have done that."

Messages left for Karen and Bill Anderson on Friday were not returned.

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