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Woman Wants to Be Buried Next to the Husband She Killed

The daughter of the man who was set aflame in 1982 is fighting her stepmother's request.

October 02, 2003|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Vidilia Spragin's dying wish is that she be buried next to her late husband.

It would have been a reasonable request, her stepdaughter points out, had she not burned the man to death 21 years ago.

"I don't want to see her next to my father," said Sandra Spragin, who is pleading for her stepmother to sell the burial plot.

"She killed my father," the younger Spragin said. "How does she have the nerve?"

But Vidilia Spragin's attorney, Kay Duffy, said Harry Spragin probably would have wanted his wife to be laid to rest next to him. Duffy said her client told her that the couple made amends for their volatile 6-year relationship during hospital visits before he died.

"She was at peace and he was at peace," Duffy said.

But Sandra Spragin says that if her stepmother is buried inches away from Harry Spragin, it would further sully her father's memory.

"She has kind of cursed her own family," said Sandra Spragin, who thought she heard the last of her stepmother in 1984 when the woman was convicted of murder.

The stormy marriage had come to a head two years earlier when a drunken Vidilia Spragin doused her husband with gasoline and set him on fire while he slept in the garage of their San Bernardino home.

Harry Spragin died two weeks later in a hospital, and his wife was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. She spent 19 years behind bars before she was released last week by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith under California's "compassionate release" law.

Vidilia Spragin, 71, had been denied parole 10 times, but because doctors discovered in July that she was dying of liver cancer and had two months to live, the judge said she posed no threat if released.

Upon her exit from prison, Vidilia Spragin called her stepdaughter to say she would like to be buried next to her husband at Forest Lawn-Covina Hills cemetery. An incredulous Sandra Spragin said no, not knowing that her stepmother bought the burial plot adjacent to her father in 1983, months before she was incarcerated. Sandra Spragin called a cemetery official, who confirmed the acquisition.

The 42-year-old stepdaughter, a Culver City resident, said she is researching legal options and asking victims support groups if there is a way to prevent any such burial.

Vidilia Spragin's jailing "was supposed to help me heal," said Sandra Spragin, who was 21 years old the day she arranged her father's funeral and burial.

Duffy said Vidilia Spragin no longer drinks and has embraced Christianity. She is currently being cared for by family members.

Harry Spragin and his first wife had two children -- including Sandra -- before a divorce in 1975. He met Vidilia Spragin two years earlier in a bar and married her in 1976. Vidilia Spragin had two children from a previous marriage. The couple shared an affinity for alcohol that often led to violence, Sandra Spragin said.

According to Duffy, Vidilia Spragin was a victim of spousal abuse. She alleges that Harry Spragin threatened Vidilia Spragin with a knife, punched and choked her, and drilled a hole into her breast with an electric drill. The Board of Prison Terms reviewed evidence but never determined that Vidilia Spragin was brutalized.

Sandra Spragin says her father may have hit her stepmother, but only in self-defense. She said Vidilia Spragin, who was 11 years older than her husband, was a rage-filled drunk who often ruined family gatherings and did not want her husband's attention to be diverted to his relatives. That's why Sandra Spragin says she did not see her father in person for four years before his murder.

"Just like the burial plot," Sandra Spragin said, "she doesn't want to share him with anybody."

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