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Officials: Exhumation of killers from vet cemeteries is rare

Last Updated Aug 13, 2017 at 11:40 am EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. – The recent exhumation of an Army Vietnam veteran’s body from the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery was a rare invocation of federal laws aimed at keeping murderers and rapists out of veterans burial grounds, federal and state officials say.

The remains of Guillermo Aillon were disinterred from the Middletown cemetery July 3, after state veterans’ affairs officials learned that he had been serving a life prison sentence for stabbing to death his estranged wife and both her parents in North Haven in 1972. It’s not clear where the remains were taken.

Only one other person appears to have been exhumed from a U.S. veterans’ cemetery under a 2013 federal law that gave the federal Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to dig up the remains of murderers and rapists, according to the VA.

In 2014, the body of Army veteran Michael LeShawn Anderson was removed from the Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Michigan. Authorities said Anderson killed Alicia Koehl, wounded three other people and killed himself in a 2012 shooting in Indianapolis. The 2013 law, named after Koehl, specifically authorized the exhumation of Anderson.

Burying convicted murderers and rapists at veterans’ cemeteries was banned by a 1997 federal law, which was aimed at preventing Oklahoma City bomber and Army veteran Timothy McVeigh from being interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

The law prohibits people sentenced to life in prison or death on convictions for federal or state capital crimes and certain sexual offences from being buried in national veterans cemeteries and other veterans burial grounds — such as the Connecticut cemetery — that receive federal funding.

But exhumation authority didn’t exist until the 2013 law, which also was made to apply to people who committed murders and rapes but were not available for trial and not convicted. The law applies only to veterans buried after it took effect on Dec. 23, 2013, with the exception for Anderson.

The remains of another veteran convicted of murder, Russell Wayne Wagner, were removed from Arlington National Cemetery under an order approved by Congress in 2006 as part of a veterans’ bill. Wagner killed an elderly couple in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1994.

Connecticut officials did not know about Aillon’s convictions because he was transferred from prison to a hospital before he died in 2014 and his death certificate listed the location as the hospital, said Thomas Saadi, spokesman for the Veterans Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly.

“It’s a very rare occurrence,” Saadi said of exhumation. “The Aillon situation was very unique.”

Saadi said the state has since required funeral directors to attest that veterans whose families have applied for them to be buried in the state veterans’ cemetery were not convicted of murder or rape.

Relatives of Aillon did not return messages seeking comment. They previously have said they were unaware of the burial restrictions and were upset with the exhumation plans.

At the Michigan cemetery, Anderson was buried with full military honours, despite Koehl’s killing.

“It was just a total insult,” Koehl’s father-in-law, Frank Koehl, told the Detroit Free Press.

Anderson’s mother, Debra Graham, said her son’s remains were relocated to another cemetery.

“I couldn’t believe it. It hurt so bad,” she told The Associated Press, referring to the exhumation. “A lot of pain and grief. I try not to think about it. I try to think about the good times we had.”