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Judge Backs Father on Burial of Son Killed in Iraq

November 02, 2005|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A judge in a bitter dispute between divorced parents about where to bury a son killed in Iraq sided with the soldier's father Tuesday, saying the mother's tearful testimony seemed contrived.

The body of 28-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Jason Hendrix should remain buried in his father's home state of Oklahoma, despite his mother's claim that he wanted to be laid to rest in California, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Yonts Jr. ruled.

The mother, Renee Amick, failed to persuade the judge that the body should be disinterred.

"The testimony of the mother appeared forced and contrived," Yonts wrote. "The tears were not genuine."

The judge cited Hendrix's ties to Oklahoma, his mother's initial agreement that he should be buried there, her uncertainty about what she would do with his remains if they were relocated to California, as well as the emotional stress that moving the body would cause.

"May this brave soldier, Sgt. Jason Hendrix, rest in peace," Yonts said.

The debate began shortly after Hendrix was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 16 near the Iraqi city of Ramadi. The Army initially turned the remains over to Amick, then reversed the decision and awarded them to the father, Russell Hendrix, citing a military policy that grants the remains of military personnel to the elder surviving parent.

The body remained refrigerated for several weeks under military guard at a funeral home in Watsonville, Calif., until Yonts issued a preliminary injunction in March releasing the remains to Russell Hendrix. The body was buried in April in Tulsa, Okla.

The case has highlighted Defense Department rules that apply if a slain soldier is unmarried and has no children -- which was the case with Hendrix, who left no will. The department grants custody to next of kin based on seniority. Russell Hendrix is 48, and Amick is 45. Two similar cases are working their way through the courts in Nevada and Michigan.

Jason Hendrix grew up in Watsonville with his mother, but finished high school while living with his father in Oklahoma.

Hendrix's parents divorced in 1991 and Russell Hendrix won custody of Jason Hendrix and his brother.

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