Law Mandates Disinterment Of Murderer

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The remains of a man convicted of murdering an elderly Hagerstown, Md., couple will be removed from Arlington National Cemetery as part of a bill signed into law by President Bush.

Bush signed the $3.2 billion bill, the Veterans Benefits, Health Care and Information Technology Act of 2006, on Friday.

The bill seeks to improve benefits and health care for veterans and their families. It also requires the Secretary of the Army to remove the cremated ashes of Russell Wayne Wagner, who was convicted of murdering Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, in 1994.

Vernon G. Davis, son of the murdered couple, said yesterday that he was relieved to hear of the change, which he had worried would never come to pass.

"We just got an extra Christmas present, and I think the whole family's satisfied," he said. "For him to do something like that to Mom and Dad, and then you turn around and honor him like that, it was completely wrong."

"Arlington Cemetery is reserved as a place of honor for men and women who have served their nation in the armed services. It is appropriate to remove the remains of individuals, who, by their own criminal actions, have brought dishonor to themselves and the memory of their service," said Tony Frato, a White House spokesman.

Wagner died in early 2005 of a heroin overdose while serving two life sentences. An Army private who served during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1972, Wagner was eligible for parole at the time of his death, which made him eligible for an Arlington service. He was buried with honors in August 2005.

But after publicity about the case and pressure from the couple's family and Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), the case was revisited.

Congress passed a law in 1997 barring people convicted of capital crimes from being buried in a national cemetery, a law designed to block the possibility of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a veteran, being buried at Arlington.

But some veterans have been reluctant to support too many restrictions, worrying that too broad a law might bar too many people.

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