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Removal of killer's ashes up to House

August 08, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate late last week unanimously passed a bill that includes an order to remove the ashes of convicted killer Russell Wayne Wagner from Arlington National Cemetery, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., announced Monday.

Wagner, 52, died from a heroin overdose in prison while serving two life sentences with the possibility of parole for the Feb. 14, 1994, stabbing murders of Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, at their West Wilson Boulevard home in Hagerstown.

Vernon Davis, the Davises' only son, said Monday that he was overwhelmed with the news of the bill's passage in the Senate.

"One man, one family does make a difference in the world. I never thought this would ever happen through one person, one family," he said.

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Davis said he requested through Arlington to be present when and if Wagner's ashes are removed from the national cemetery in Virginia.

Brooke Adams, spokeswoman for the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said a similar House bill that includes an order for the removal of Wagner's ashes, is under review by the committee. If it is passed in committee, it will go to the House for a vote, she said.

If the House passes the bill, it will be conferenced and go to President Bush for his signature, Adams said.

She said she did not know the timeline for the legislation.

Five months after Wagner's February 2005 death, his ashes were placed at Arlington National Cemetery with standard military honors, a service requested by his sister, Karen Anderson. Wagner served as a U.S. Army private 1st class from Sept. 13, 1969, to Sept. 1, 1972.

Former bill



In January, President Bush signed into law a separate bill co-sponsored by Mikulski and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate veterans affairs committee, that took away burial eligibility for any veteran convicted of a capital crime in either state or federal court, regardless of parole eligibility. Parole eligibility was the loophole that allowed Wagner's placement at the cemetery.

The current bill - the Veterans' Choice of Representation and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2006 - calls for the Secretary of the Army to remove Wagner's ashes and notify Wagner's next of kin when his remains will be removed. The bill calls for Wagner's remains to be returned to his next of kin, but if his next of kin is unavailable, to "arrange for an appropriate disposition of the remains."

A message seeking comment from Anderson, Wagner's sister, was not returned Monday.

In a written statement issued Monday, Mikulski said, "My promises made to the Davis family will be promises kept. I will keep working with my colleagues to see this proposal through ... We must preserve our national cemeteries as places of honor for our veterans. Arlington is for heroes, not convicted murderers."

In November 1997, a law was enacted preventing any person convicted of a state capital crime and sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole from receiving burial eligibility at Arlington National Cemetery, the bill states.

Wagner's ashes are the only remains of a capital offender placed at the national cemetery in Virginia since 1997, the bill states.




To read the complete text of the bill requesting the removal of Russell Wayne Wagner's ashes from Arlington National Cemetery, go to www.thomas.gov. In the Search Bill Text field, select Bill Number, enter S2694 and click Search. Choose Veterans' Choice of Representation and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2006 (S.2694.ES) and select SEC. 202.




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The issue: Russell Wayne Wagner, a Vietnam-era veteran, died in prison while serving two life sentences with the possibility of parole for the 1994 murders of Daniel and Wilda Davis of Hagerstown. His ashes were placed with standard military honors at Arlington in July 2005. President Bush has signed into law a bill that prevents veterans convicted of capital offenses, regardless of parole status, from being buried at military cemeteries and from having military services at private cemeteries.

What's new: The U.S. Senate passed a bill late last week that includes an order to remove Wagner's ashes.

What's next: A similar House bill that includes an order for the removal of Wagner's ashes is under review by the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs. If it is passed in committee, it will go to the House for a vote. If the House passes the bill, it will be conferenced and go to President Bush for his signature.

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