Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Slain soldier's father wants answersGeorgia officials refuse to release remains of St. Charles native

By Russell Korando

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Almost four years after his murder and a little more than a year after his murderers were convicted and imprisoned, Richard Davis is still waiting to be laid to rest.

And his father, Lanny Davis, of St. Charles, wants to know why.

A small part of Richard Davis was buried with full military honors at the Sunset Hills Cemetery in Apple Valley, Calif., in December 2003. But Lanny Davis believes the same military, along with those who tried and convicted his son's murderers, are now dishonoring the former Army soldier who fought in the opening days of the war in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Fort Benning, Ga.

Lanny Davis, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Remedios (Remy) Davis, went to Columbus, Ga., last month to obtain the rest of their son's remains so they could be interred in his California gravesite. Davis said he met with Columbus District Attorney Gray Conger but Conger told him the remains would have to stay in Georgia until the appeals process for two of the men convicted in his death runs out.

Alberto Martinez and Mario Navarrete, who were in the same platoon with Davis in Iraq, were sentenced to life in prison. Jacob Burgoyne received 20 years for his role in the murder. Douglas Woodcoff was given five years probation for concealing a death.

Prosecutors allege Davis was stabbed at least 30 times in July 2003, the day after the five soldiers returned to Fort Benning from Iraq. The men were all members of the same platoon and had been out drinking at a popular strip club in Columbus they had frequented before the war.Conger has not returned several phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

"I don't know which remains we buried because I never saw a list and they would not let me look in the casket," said Lanny Davis at his home in St. Charles this week.Later, he found his son's remains were still housed in Columbus.

"When I told Mr. Conger I wanted to view my son's remains he acted like I was a ghoul and asked me if I really wanted to see them. I told him, 'Yes sir, I do,'" Lanny Davis said. "We met with (Conger) and his assistant again the next day and they had an elongated box sitting on a conference table that was maybe 2-and-a-half feet long maybe 8 inches high and 8 inches wide."Seeing what he believed to be just 20 percent of his son's remains in that cardboard box devastated Davis and his wife.

Remy Davis clutched her son's skull to her breast and wept. Lanny Davis tried to keep his emotions under control as he consoled his wife and took count of the bone fragments."It looked like somebody had gone through those remains,"

Lanny Davis said.Lanny Davis believes that Martinez and Navarrete will appeal their sentences, arguing they have post-traumatic stress disorder, something Lanny has been afflicted with since returning from Vietnam more than three decades ago.

Davis undergoes treatment for PTSD every month. Yet, he doesn't think PTSD had anything to do with his son's murder. Davis has long since maintained that the murder was an attempt to cover up atrocities his son witnessed in Iraq.

"That's the lamest excuse I've heard in my life," said Davis clearing his throat. His voice is hoarse and the words come out with a harsh raspiness, as they have since Davis was struck in the throat by a Viet Cong soldier's rifle butt in Vietnam.

He's frustrated with Conger's execution of the case against the four soldiers, and the D.A.'s attitude toward the Davis family."I don't think he took me seriously at all, I was just another person he had to deal with that day," Lanny Davis said. "

I didn't see much emotion from this man. He looked at me as part of the enemy because I wanted to find out the facts. I was digging into things he didn't want me to. The Army, too."

Davis may have good reason to be skeptical about the case and the delay in turning over his son's remains. The controversy surrounding the death of former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman is eerily familiar for the Davis family. Both were the result of fratricide.

Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan three years ago.The truth, Davis said, is all his family wants.His wife has moved to California to be close to her family and Richard. She doesn't want Davis to sell their home here because it's one of the last reminders of their son alive.

He said the circumstances surrounding his son's death have put a strain on their marriage, but he still loves his wife and wants her to have the closure she deserves."We still love each other, how can you not," he said.

"Yeah, it's put a strain on our marriage, but we need to support each other. Most of her family's out there for support."But they're not alone. Nearly 200 people, mostly strangers, have signed a petition by at

What Lanny and Remy Davis want now is a proper way to remember their son.

"My plan is once they get everything done, I'm going to go to Columbus, view my son's remains, see what's missing and then escort his remains back to California," Lanny Davis said. "If I have to sleep in the morgue to do that, if I have to fly out in the cargo hold, I'll do that."That's our son. I used to feed him and clean his dirty diapers, hold him, try to teach him right from wrong."

--submitted by Patti Woodard

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