WICHITA, Kan. – A U.S. senator on Thursday said he will try to close a loophole in a law that would allow convicted BTK serial killer Dennis Rader to be buried in a national military cemetery.

At a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in Washington, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he would introduce legislation to ensure that people such as Rader, an honorably discharged Air Force veteran, wouldn’t be buried alongside military heroes.

Craig said he wants to close a “parole” loophole in a 1997 law. That law was designed to keep Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, an Army veteran, out of a military cemetery after his execution.

The law prohibits veterans who have been convicted of capital crimes from being interred in national cemeteries if they are sentenced to death, or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rader, who pleaded guilty to killing 10 people in the Wichita area, was sentenced to 175 years in prison. But the death penalty did not apply to any of the murders, and Rader, 60, is technically eligible for parole.

The state lists a parole eligibility date of Feb. 26, 2180.

In his opening statement, Craig, the committee’s chairman, said he asked the Congressional Research Service to analyze Rader’s sentence. The research service concluded that Rader was not barred from interment in a national cemetery, Craig said.

“If the 1997 law cannot prevent the interment of a notorious serial killer, what good is it?” Craig said.

Craig said he called the hearing after discovering that the cremated remains of a man convicted of two murders in Maryland had been placed in Arlington Cemetery in July.

The murderer, Russell Wagner, had been sentenced to two life terms with the possibility of parole. He died of a heroin overdose in prison.

“How could an individual who committed such heinous acts be placed in the same hallowed ground as Chief Justice (William) Rehnquist, Justice Thurgood Marshall, President Kennedy and hundreds and hundreds of service members to whom this country owed its eternal respect?” Craig said.

After the hearing, Craig announced that he would introduce a bill to get Wagner’s remains removed from Arlington.

One difficulty that national cemetery administrators have in enforcing the 1997 law is that states define capital crimes differently, and also differ on imposition of the death sentence, said Richard Wannemacher, acting undersecretary for memorial affairs for the National Cemetery Administration.

Dennis Cullinan, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, speaking on behalf of the VFW, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, expressed support at the hearing for closing the loophole.

He also cautioned the committee to be careful in making changes to the law so it doesn’t take away rights from deserving veterans.

Craig said he will work with VA officials and veterans organizations to craft changes in the bill.

(c) 2005, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


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