Saturday, September 24, 2005

Who lay among the honored dead?

Arlington National Cemetary holds a distinct position in our nation's esteem. There lie interred in that hallowed ground Presidents, geniuses, philantropists, soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and few known but to God. It is a place almost universally known by Americans as a place for this nation's honored dead.

So how could a scumbag double-murderer who died in prison be residing there in such company?

No, I'm not talking about a political distinction. I'm talking about a guy who just so happened to be a veteran who managed to gain the confidence of an eldery couple enough to enter their home and overpower them. What happened next cannot be excused.

::::::::The elderly couple, Daniel and Wilda Davis, opened their door to Russell Wayne Wagner on Valentine's Day 1994.

"He took Mom and Dad and sat them on a kitchen chair, tied their hands behind their heads and put a pillowcase over their heads, stabbed them 14-15 times and then he robbed them and then he left," their son, Vernon Davis, tearfully told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Thursday.

Wagner was convicted of the couple's murders and sentenced to two life terms with parole eligibility. When he died in prison, he was cremated and placed in the nation's premiere veterans' cemetery: Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1997 Congress passed a law restricting the access to Arlington National Cemetary such that certain kinds of felons - violent ones, I believe - cannot be buried at Arlington regardless of their discharge status. Wagner's burial got through a loophole in the law that only restricts those sentanced to death or life without parole. Wagner was sentenced to life but would have been eligible for parole. Just to add yet another unsavory chapter to this whole mess, Wagner died in prison from a heroin overdose. From the sounds of the webmaster at the Arlington National Cemetary site, it would appear the caretakers at Arlington weren't aware of the felony conviction before accepting Wagner's funeral there. I tend to doubt they could have done anything even if they had known.

There are 2 bills currently making their way through Congress to attempt to rectify this issue. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has introduced a bill to remove the loophole regarding parole and simply prohibit any felon sentenced to life from being buried there, regardless of whether parole is an option or not. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) has done the same except his bill would also explicitly exhume Wagner. I have no issue with that at all. Such a man has no right to pollute the ground there. I hope Craig's bill passes.