Barletta Bill to Exhume Convicted Murderer from VA Cemetery
Rep. Barletta speaks with Jackie Katz of California, daughter of murder victim Bertie Smith
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, has introduced legislation that ensures that veterans buried in military cemeteries are truly eligible for that honor, and have not been convicted of state or federal capital crimes. The legislation, Bertie’s Respect for National Cemeteries Act, is named for Pennsylvanian Bertha “Bertie” Smith, who was murdered by a man who was subsequently interred in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. The legislation also provides for her killer’s removal from the cemetery. This legislation is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“Our national military cemeteries are hallowed ground, and they ought to be treated that way,” Barletta said. “Our brave men and women have sacrificed so that we may remain free, and they should be afforded every right, privilege, and honor they have earned. The cemeteries we reserve for them should not be tainted by those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes imaginable.”
Bertie’s Respect for National Cemeteries Act was made necessary by the burial of George Emery Siple at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. Siple was convicted of the October 15, 1969 capital murder of “Bertie” Smith outside a local store front. He was interred in the cemetery upon his death in prison in 1999, despite his evident ineligibility under current law. Smith’s family has been unsuccessful to this point in petitioning for his disinterment.
Bertie’s Respect for National Cemeteries Act
- Requires Department of Veterans Administration (VA) National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery to take every reasonable action, including searching public criminal records, to ensure that a veteran is eligible to be buried.
- Allows for the disinterment of veterans convicted of capital crimes, to apply to all burials after 1997.
- Provides for the disinterment of George Emery Siple.
In 1997, Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators led the effort to protect the integrity of our VA National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, by barring veterans convicted of a federal or state capital crime from being buried or memorialized in these esteemed cemeteries. At the time, veterans across the nation were justifiably appalled that Timothy McVeigh, a domestic terrorist and convicted murderer, could be buried with full military honors.
The 1997 law was not actively enforced until 2006 – almost a decade after passage. Since then the VA has relied on an “honor system,” which requires family members to willingly report their relative’s criminal record. On December 20, 2013, Congress once again sought to protect our VA National Cemeteries by passing a law to explicitly allow the VA to disinter veterans convicted of a federal or state capital crime. However, this law does not extend to veterans buried between 1997 and 2013, a time period that includes George Emery Siple.
“A VA National Cemetery is a place of honor,” Barletta said. “I don’t think it’s too much to state that murderers should not be buried next to true American heroes.”