Dispute over veteran's remains ends with judge's ruling

November 30, 2011 3:09:53 PM PST
A dispute over a veteran's last wishes has finally been settled -- by a judge.

For nearly three weeks, his closest friend and stepdaughter have been fighting for what they believe he wanted after death. But with no family to back them up, a judge on Wednesday made a difficult decision.

"You have brothers by blood and brothers by combat," Coyt Mangum said.

Mangum says he is the closest thing to family Manual Maurice Walden had.

"We all called him CW, and he's been living with me since Katrina," he said.

Walden's stepdaughter, Christina Stouten, says the same thing.

"He's been my step dad for 34 years," Stouten said.

But when Walden died on November 10, Mangum and Stouten found out they don't count as next of kin by state law, and therefore, the Galveston County Medical Examiner's Office couldn't release the body to either of them.

Even though both of them say Mangum had told them he wanted to be cremated and buried in northern Michigan, where he was from. They say he didn't want the military funeral he is entitled to as a Vietnam veteran.

"I think it's ridiculous that somebody can't take care of someone who has taken care of them," Stouten said.

And a search for blood kin turned up possible relatives, but not one of them replied.

"He's been estranged from them for years. I don't even know who they are," Mangum said.

Meantime, Walden's body sat unclaimed in the Galveston County morgue for three weeks, until Wednesday, when a Galveston County probate judge made a decision.

Walden will be released to a funeral home, and he will have a VA military funeral, not a cremation. But those closest to him say it's better than where he's been the last three weeks.

"My problem is it makes me feel really bad that he's been laying up there in that cold box," Mangum said.

The probate judge told us off camera that if Walden had a will spelling out his wishes, this all would have been prevented. His step daughter says he had talked about doing just that, but had never gotten around to it.

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