- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

District of Columbia officials are seeking to change the city's 17-year-old laws on notifying next of kin, prompted by a quarrel over a murdered man's funeral.

The D.C. Council is considering bills that would retool the current "father knows best" rule that defers to male family members in arranging the burials of loved ones.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams last summer urged changing the law after a federal judge had suggested the city's regulations could be unconstitutional.

The judge's suggestion stemmed from a dispute between the unmarried parents of Tyrone Henderson Jr., 22, who was found beaten to death last Easter in the 3600 block of 11th Street NW.

The victim's father, Tyrone Henderson, began making arrangements with Horton's Funeral Services. His mother, Karen Parker, sought different arrangements. Horton's directors referred her to the city's 1984 law, which delegates responsibility to the father.

Ms. Parker objected and consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said the D.C. code "gives automatic priority to male relatives over female relatives."

Horton's agreed to delay the funeral while Ms. Parker and the ACLU took the case to U.S. District Court on May 2.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler applied a different portion of the D.C. law that gives responsibility to the "oldest adult" relative and ordered Horton's to follow the mother's wishes for the funeral.

Ms. Parker is about three years older than Mr. Henderson.

"It was a horrible ordeal for me to have to go to court to assert my constitutional rights in the midst of grieving for my son, Tyrone," she said.

In a July 26 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, Mr. Williams said "a U.S. District Court judge stated her inclination to declare the District's existing law unconstitutional."

"The District has a strong interest in eliminating the perceived gender and age bias in its current law," the mayor wrote, enclosing proposed changes for the D.C. Funeral Services Regulatory Act of 1984.

The proposal is in the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, soon to be submitted to the City Council for passage. It must be approved by Congress before it can take effect.

Although other funeral directors and cemetery operators report they have had no troubles with the 1984 law, they unanimously agree that an amended code precludes potential problems.

A bigger problem at cemeteries is keeping records for families of their buried kin. Some relatives buy grave sites "in perpetuity," which virtually forbids cemetery operators from ever disposing or changing those grave sites.

At least two cemeteries Glenwood Cemetery, in the 2200 block of Lincoln Road NE, and Congressional Cemetery, in the 1800 block of E Street SE are running out of grave sites. They are among city's the oldest burial grounds. Congressional was created in 1807; Glenwood, a few years later.

"Surprisingly, we have some sites still available," said Congressional volunteer coordinator Bob Dean.

Some Glenwood grave sites are "double depth," said superintendent Terrance N. Adkins, explaining that relatives allow caskets of recently deceased family members to be buried on top of other relatives.

Besides double-depth graves, cemeteries may dig up roads through cemeteries to convert that space to new grave sites, Mr. Adkins said.

Most cemeteries have double-depth grave sites, said John Devol of Devol Funeral Home, stressing that the Washington area is many years away from the overcrowding that forced New York City burials far into the suburbs.

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