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Veterans' bill awaits president's signature

December 12, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - A veterans' bill that orders the ashes of convicted double-murderer Russell Wayne Wagner to be removed from Arlington National Cemetery is awaiting President Bush's signature.

White House and U.S. Senate spokespeople contacted Monday - two days after the U.S. Senate passed the bill - weren't sure when it would reach the president.

"In the next couple days," said Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Once the president receives it, he has 10 days - excluding Sundays - to either sign the bill into law or veto it and return it to the house in which it originated, according to the U.S. Constitution. If he does neither, the bill becomes law.

The order concerning Wagner's ashes was tucked into a comprehensive $3.2 billion spending package for veterans' health care.

The provision, previously passed in a different veterans' bill by the Senate but not the House, says "The Secretary of the Army shall remove the remains of Russell Wayne Wagner from Arlington National Cemetery" and notify his next-of-kin.

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Wagner was convicted of murdering Daniel and Wilda Davis at their Hagerstown home in 1994.

In 2002, he was sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison.

Three years later, while in prison, he died of a heroin overdose. His sister, Karen Anderson, arranged for his cremated remains to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery. Wagner was eligible to have his remains there because he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1972.

Anderson declined to comment Saturday evening.

When The Herald-Mail reported the story about Wagner's remains in August 2005, it sparked outrage and calls for the removal of his remains, particularly from the Davis family and from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Despite being convicted of a capital crime, Wagner qualified for inurnment at a national cemetery because his sentence included the possibility of parole. However, in January, President Bush signed into law a bill eliminating that loophole. Mikulski co-sponsored the bill.

The House passed the $3.2 billion veterans' package Friday morning. The same bill passed the Senate at about 3 a.m. Saturday.

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