Military burial will proceed for murderer accused of faking war medal

11:53 AM, Aug 20, 2010   |    comments
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Sawyer, who lived in Arvada as recently as 2007, died last month in an Arizona prison where he was serving a 13-year sentence for the murder of his second wife.

Francis Sawyer was strangled to death in 1981 but her husband wasn't charged until 2007 when a Maricopa County cold case detective traveled from Arizona to Arvada and got Raymond Sawyer to confess.

Shortly after that, Sawyer was kicked out of the Legion of Valor, a prestigious society for those who have been awarded the nation's highest military honors. The Legion of Valor decided Sawyer had not received the Navy Cross as he claimed.

Sawyer will be buried next Tuesday at Fort Logan.

"I think that taxpayers who are footing the bill for this should be irate," retired Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Tom Richards, the membership director of the Legion of Honor, said.

"Do we want Raymond Sawyer, a murderer, to be buried in the same hallowed ground as Medal of Honor recipients?"

Sawyer's daughter by his first marriage, Mary Sawyer, told 9Wants to Know investigator Kyle Clark that the family is sticking by its decision to have Raymond Sawyer buried at Fort Logan.

"It's not the public's decision," Mary Sawyer said. "Other people should mind their own business."

Fort Logan representative Joe Turnbach said Friday that cemetery officials "appreciate the concern of the veterans community" but the rules governing military burials allow for Sawyer's internment.

Veterans Administration (VA) guidelines outlined on its website say the only criminal conviction that can disqualify an honorably discharged veteran from a military burial is a conviction on a capital crime where the sentence involves life in prison or execution.

According to the Maricopa County, Arizona Attorney's Office, Sawyer was charged with first degree murder, which could result in a life sentence, but he confessed and pleaded guilty to second degree murder, which does not carry life in prison.

With Sawyer being in his 80s at the time of sentencing, a 13-year term was "virtually a life sentence," an attorney's office spokesman said Thursday.

Former Pueblo resident Doug Sterner, who now lives in Virginia, has spent years tracking down and exposing false claims of military heroics.

Sterner said Sawyer was honorably discharged after World War II and received the Purple Heart, but was not awarded the Navy Cross.

Advocates of the Stolen Valor Act, which criminalizes lying about war medals, had hoped Sawyer would be the first person prosecuted under the act, Sterner said, but Sawyer was arrested on the murder charge first.

Mary Sawyer says the family still believes her father was awarded the Navy Cross.

Sawyer was not charged under the Stolen Valor Act, which was recently declared an unconstitutional violation of free speech by a federal judge in Denver and a circuit court in California. Advocates hope for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

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