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Pass new cemetery laws and make applicants responsible

October 06, 2005

Even if they were honorably discharged from the military, convicted murderers with life sentences would be barred from burial in national cemeteries under a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

And, a separate bill is in the works to remove Russell Wayne Wagner's ashes from Arlington National Cemetery.

We support both bills in the hope that their passage will provide some small comfort to the family of Wagner's victims, Daniel and Wilda Davis.

Wagner died in prison of a heroin overdose while serving two life sentences for the 1994 murders. Under current law, his ashes were allowed into the columbarium at Arlington because his sentence allowed for the possibility of parole.

Thankfully, lawmakers have not reacted to this case by proposing to further tighten conditions for parole in Maryland. As corrections officials have noted, an inmate without any hope of eventual release can be a dangerous and disruptive person within an institution.

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Though it was a flaw in the law that allowed Wagner's ashes to be placed at Arlington, it was his relatives' decision to ask that it be done.

They did so without regard to the possibility that the Davis family would learn of it and that it would exacerbate the grief the victims' family has felt for more than 10 years.

There is no punishment in the law for such a bad decision, but we would like to believe that after the fact Wagner's kin do feel some remorse.

Now to the proposed law. Laws are passed, in many cases, to correct situations that would not occur if citizens used common sense and thought beforehand about how their decisions would affect others.

In the Maryland General Assembly, the cost of a bill is referred to as its fiscal note. What's the fiscal note on these bills? We support them, but would not favor adding a large bureaucracy to check whether those proposed for burial at Arlington have murder convictions.

Instead, we suggest putting the burden on those signing the application, by making it a crime to deceive cemetery officials. Bad behavior should cost the perpetrator, not the taxpayers.

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