- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Congress has approved a $3.2 billion veterans bill that includes a provision ordering the removal of the remains of a convicted double murderer from the Arlington National Cemetery.

The vote was good news for Vernon Davis, whose parents, Daniel and Wilda Davis, were fatally stabbed by Russell Wayne Wagner at their Hagerstown home on Valentine’s Day 1994.

Mr. Davis fought for 16 months to have Wagner’s remains removed from the military cemetery.

“Right to this day, I just can’t believe it,” Mr. Davis told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. “I didn’t think it would ever happen.”

Wagner, a Vietnam veteran, was sentenced in 2002 to life in prison. He died of a heroin overdose last year, and his body was cremated. At the request of his sister, Karen Anderson, Wagner’s ashes were placed at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr. Davis objected to the honor for Wagner and testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In January, President Bush signed into law a ban on burial at national cemeteries for veterans convicted of capital crimes, eliminating the loophole that allowed Wagner’s remains to be placed at Arlington.

The Senate approved a veterans bill in August that included a specific order to remove Wagner’s remains from the cemetery, but the bill didn’t pass the House.

The provision was inserted again into the $3.2 billion package to improve veterans benefits and health care. The bill passed the House on Friday morning by a voice vote, and the Senate approved it Saturday at about 3 a.m.

After a 12-hour shift playing Santa Claus at a nearby mall, Mr. Davis went home and watched C-SPAN. He went to bed at midnight, when the 2006 session was scheduled to end. However, the Senate remained in session for nearly five more hours to finish its business.

The provision reads: “The Secretary of the Army shall remove the remains of Russell Wayne Wagner from Arlington National Cemetery.”

It requires the secretary to return the remains to Wagner’s next of kin. Mrs. Anderson declined to comment Saturday.

The bill goes to Mr. Bush for his signature, and Mr. Davis said he will continue to monitor it until then.

“To believe it, I just have to see it,” he said.

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