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Senate panel to hold hearing on national cemetery burials

September 21, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

WASHINGTON

tammyb@herald-mail.com

As promised last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs will conduct a hearing Thursday on the policy for interment in national cemeteries.

The hearing comes as a result of protests over the inurnment this summer at Arlington National Cemetery of the remains of a man convicted in the 1994 murders of a Hagerstown couple.

The couple's son, Vernon Davis of Hagerstown, is scheduled to testify at the hearing. It begins at 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 418 in the Russell Senate Office Building. The hearing can be seen live on the committee's Web site - http://veterans.senate.gov. Audio only will be available on the C-SPAN hearings Web site - www.capitolhearings.org - according to committee spokesman Jeff Schrade.

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The committee agreed to review the burial policy after learning this summer that the ashes of Russell Wayne Wagner had been inurned in the cemetery's columbarium. Wagner died in February while serving two life sentences for the Feb. 14, 1994, murders of Daniel Davis, 84, and his wife, Wilda Davis, 80. The Davises were repeatedly stabbed in their West Wilson Boulevard home.

Wagner, 52, served in the U.S. Army from 1969-72 and was honorably discharged. The cause of his death was listed as heroin intoxication.

His ashes were permitted to remain at Arlington because of a loophole in a 1997 regulation that prevents some convicted murderers from being interred at national cemeteries. Approved in anticipation of a death sentence for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War veteran, the regulation stipulates that anyone receiving a death sentence or a sentence of life without parole may not be buried in a national cemetery.

Since Wagner was serving two consecutive life sentences, he could have been considered for parole starting in 2024 - assuming he received the maximum time off for good behavior and other credits, Raymond Smith, operations administrator for the Maryland Parole Commission, said last month.

Thursday's hearing is "directly in response" to a request from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., according to Mikulski spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz. Reviewing the interment policy was a priority for the committee, Schwartz said. Mikulski, scheduled to be the first speaker at the hearing, will introduce Davis.

Davis, himself a veteran, had protested Wagner's inurnment at Arlington. Davis said he was contacted about the hearing last week.

"I'm glad I'm at this point," he said. "Whether it'll do any good, I don't know."

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