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Bill passed to disinter veteran from Fort Custer cemetery

Dec. 11, 2013 - 06:52PM   |  
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A bill ordering removal of an accused murderer’s remains from a Michigan cemetery passed the House on Wednesday and is on its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

Called the Alicia Down Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act, the bill creates a new process in law to remove remains of someone believed to have committed murder but never convicted because they avoided prosecution. It would apply to burials, cremated remains and memorial markers.

The bill primarily applies to future cases in the unusual situation where someone is never convicted and maybe never even charged because they died or fled arrest.

However, the measure directly addresses accused murderer and Afghanistan veteran Michael L. Anderson, who was buried in 2012 at the Fort Custer National Cemetery in Michigan days after a shooting spree at an Indianapolis apartment complex where Anderson allegedly murdered a woman and shot three others before killing himself.

The bill is named for his victim.

According to Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ill., the chief sponsor of the bill, VA officials knew nothing of the Army veteran’s alleged involvement in the shooting when he was buried. If they had, there are procedures in law that could have prevented the burial, Coats said, but there is no process to remove remains once buried.

Under a new process, cemeteries would reconsider interment decisions if federal officials are presented with “clear and convincing evidence” that a veteran was convicted of a capital crime or committed a capital crime but was not convicted because they were not tried as a result of death or flight from prosecution.

The rule would apply at veterans’ national cemeteries and at Arlington National Cemetery, and could lead to removal of remains as well as memorial headstones or markers.

Before disinterment, the veterans’ next of kin would be given a chance to appeal the decision. If there is no next of kin or the next of kin chooses not to be involved, the cemetery would be responsible for reburial at another location.

The new process would apply to burials or the placing of memorial headstones and markers after the bill becomes law, with one exception: Michael L. Anderson. The bill would order his remains to be removed from the Fort Custer cemetery.

His next of kin could claim the remains for burial elsewhere, or the VA will “arrange for an appropriate disposition,” the bill language states.

“For the sake not only of the victims and their families but also the memory of veterans who conducted themselves during and after military service with honor befitting of a national cemetery burial, capital offenders do not belong in our military cemeteries,” said Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman.

The bill gives cemetery leaders “all of the tools needed to take out of our national cemeteries those who have sullied their military service through their own heinous actions,” Miller said.

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