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'Murderers should not be allowed'

Sen. Mikulski writes letter to members of veterans' affairs committee

Sen. Mikulski writes letter to members of veterans' affairs committee

August 12, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON

andrews@herald-mail.com

Questioning how the remains of a "cold-blooded murderer" were accepted at a national military cemetery, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., on Thursday asked members of a Senate committee to investigate.

"Our national cemeteries are places of national honor for those who have served their country and fellow citizens," Mikulski wrote in a letter to Sen. Larry E. Craig, R-Idaho, and Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, both of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "Convicted murderers should not be allowed in the hallowed grounds of our national cemeteries."

Mikulski was referring to Russell Wayne Wagner, 52, who was convicted of murdering Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, of Hagerstown in 1994. Wagner was sentenced to consecutive life terms in 2002.

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He died in prison in February. The cause of death was listed as heroin intoxication.

Wagner served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972 and was honorably discharged. At his sister's request, Wagner's ashes were placed in an urn at Arlington National Cemetery last month with standard military honors.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Army, which oversees the military cemetery, has said Wagner's ashes were placed at the cemetery properly and will stay.

Craig, the chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, "definitely shares" Mikulski's concerns and will look into the situation, his press secretary, Dan Whiting, said Thursday.

"It does open a can of worms," Whiting said.

Donalyn Dela Cruze, the press secretary for Akaka, the committee's ranking minority member, said by e-mail that his staff received the letter and she believes the committee will investigate.

News of the honor for Wagner has angered Vernon and Virginia Davis, the children of Daniel and Wilda Davis.

Vernon and Virginia Davis have appealed to elected officials to intervene.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett Jr., R-Md., has said the law should have kept Wagner's remains out of the cemetery and needs to be changed.

"My guess is the regulations will be changed," Bartlett said Tuesday.

Mikulski's letter asks Craig and Akaka to examine the situation and make recommendations.

Mikulski wrote that she was "shocked" to learn that a 1997 law passed to keep convicted murderers such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh from being buried at national cemeteries did not apply to Wagner because his sentence allowed him to apply for parole.

Maryland Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, has urged U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., to ask the Army to remove Wagner's remains.

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