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California judge rules soldier's body to stay in Oklahoma

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A judge in a bitter dispute between divorced parents over where to bury a son killed in Iraq sided with the soldier's father Tuesday.

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, Superior Court Judge Robert B. Yonts Jr. ruled.

The case highlighted a little-known Pentagon policy that says if a slain soldier is unmarried and has no children _ which was the case with Hendrix _ custody is granted to the eldest next of kin. Hendrix's father, Russell Hendrix, is 48; his mother, Renee Amick, 45.

Because Hendrix left no will, the only evidence of his desire to be buried in California was Amick's testimony that he told her so about a year before he died. That desire was not put in writing, and the judge did not believe the mother's story.

``The testimony of the mother appeared forced and contrived. The tears were not genuine,'' the judge wrote.

Hendrix, 28, was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 16 near the Iraqi city of Ramadi. He was buried in April in a plot next to his paternal grandfather, a former Marine, after the Pentagon shipped the body to Oklahoma under its standing policy.

Hendrix's parents divorced in 1991, and Russell Hendrix was awarded custody. Jason Hendrix grew up in Watsonville, Calif., with his mother but finished high school while living with his father in Oklahoma.

According to court documents, Hendrix returned to California only to visit family. He also had an Oklahoma driver's license and listed Oklahoma as his state of residence, and there was evidence he planned to return to the state after leaving the Army, the judge said.
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