Bartlett says change in burial rules likely

August 10, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER


The remains of a convicted killer might remain at Arlington National Cemetery, but U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett Jr., R-Md., said Tuesday he wouldn't be surprised if regulations on military burials are changed as result.

"I can understand the frustration of the families who've lost loved ones in the service to have this convicted murderer there," Bartlett told The Herald-Mail.

"I suspect that what will come from this is a hearing, and then my guess is the regulations will be changed," he said.


In the meantime, he said, "it may be that legally, if the family doesn't agree, they can't remove him," Bartlett said.

The cremated remains of Russell Wayne Wagner, convicted in 2002 of the 1994 killings of an elderly Hagerstown couple, were placed at Arlington National Cemetery last month. At the time of his death, Wagner was serving two consecutive life sentences at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup.

Bartlett said the presence of Wagner's remains at Arlington was "particularly sensitive now" because of the war in Iraq.

"I feel very sorry for his family members, who are not responsible for what he did," Bartlett said. "But the 1,800 families who've lost loved ones in this war would be offended by this."

While he said the U.S. Army was likely adhering to regulations by declining to remove Wagner's ashes from the cemetery, "my grandmother used to say, 'all that is legal is not always moral.' It is something that needs to be remedied."

Bartlett's comments came on the same day a local legislator fulfilled a promise made Monday and officially asked U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., to request that the Army remove Wagner's remains.

"In 1994 Daniel and Wilda Davis, an elderly Hagerstown couple, were brutally murdered in my District on West Wilson Boulevard," Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, wrote. "In 2002, Russell Wayne Wagner was convicted of the killings and was given two life sentences. Wagner died in February in a Maryland prison and was somehow afforded a military service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The entire community is outraged that such an honor would be bestowed upon someone convicted of such a heinous crime.

"It is my understanding that the Secretary of the Army has the authority to reverse this situation and have the remains removed and interred elsewhere.

"On behalf of my constituents and the Davis Family, I would ask that you inquire as to how this situation could be rectified."

Donoghue represents the city of Hagerstown in the Maryland General Assembly.

Though he had planned to write to Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey as well, Donoghue said Tuesday that he learned the correct protocol was to write to a member of Congress, who would then take the letter to Harvey.

The U.S. Senate is in recess until Sept. 6, but a spokeswoman for Maryland's other senator, Democrat Barbara Mikulski, said her office had researched the matter and had been told Wagner's remains would stay at Arlington because his sentence had allowed for the possibility for parole. She said the victims' family had not contacted Mikulski's office regarding Wagner.

Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd had given The Herald-Mail the same information on Army code for military burials last week. But a staff member for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said Monday the committee was investigating the matter, and Donoghue said he believed the Army could, through its own regulations, reverse authorization for Wagner's placement at Arlington.

A spokeswoman for the state Division of Parole was unable to determine Tuesday when Wagner would have been eligible for parole, but Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III said at Wagner's sentencing that he would not be eligible for a parole hearing until he reached his 70s.

Wagner was 52 when he died Feb. 7.

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