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Man claiming to be Sherman Hemsley's cousin wants Hemsley buried in Philiadelphia

By Jerry Najera, Multimedia Journalist
Published On: Nov 04 2012 04:44:20 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 18 2013 06:17:03 PM CDT

Gerardo Najera reports

EL PASO, Texas -

Several month's after the death of Sherman Hemsley, "The Jefferson's" star still hasn't been laid to rest amidst a battle for his estate - and body - by people claiming to be his long-lost relatives.

A man claiming to be Hemsley's cousin on his mother's side is questioning the state of mind the actor was in when he signed his will.

Hemsley died of lung cancer at his El Paso home in late July and his body has not been buried. It is still in a refrigerator at an East El Paso funeral home.

A June will signed by Hemsley one month before he died directs that his entire estate be left to Flora Enchinton Bernal, whom Hemsley referred to as his "beloved partner" in his will. Hemsley's estate is listed in probate documents to be worth about $50,000.

The Rev. Michael Wells is claiming Hemsley should be buried in his home town of Philiadelphia.

Wells told ABC-7 his mother and Hemsley go back to the star's childhood.

"I refer to Sherman as uncle," said Wells.

Wells told ABC-7, "Basically my mother and Sherman would see each other week to week-month to month they grew up together as children's."

Wells knows all the controversy surrounding the legal proceedings involved in Sherman Hemsley's body and estate.

In the past few weeks the courts have dealt with delays.

Flora Enchinton, Hemsley's partner, was given all of Hemsley's assets through a will Hemsley signed in June.

Wells said he has spoken to Enchinton.

"When I talked to Miss Flora she gave me a little time on the phone and she said 'I tried to reach your family,'" said Wells.

Asked if anyone in his family had spoken to Echinton, Wells said "no."

Wells said his priority is to have Hemsley buried in Philiadelphia where he was from, not to get his hands on his estate.

"I will not try to acquire anything unless I'm entitled to it," said Wells.

Another man claiming to be Hemsley's brother said it should go to him.

Richard Thorton recently underwent a DNA test to prove he was Hemsley's brother which records confirmed his claim, but the evidence was ruled inadmissible because it was filed after the Oct. 15 court-mandated deadline.

Wells said he wants to make sure all of the paper work is in order.

"I just question what state of mind he was in when he put this together."

Another man claiming to be Hemsley's brother said the estate, and Hemsley's body, should go to him.

Richard Thorton, of Philadelphia, recently underwent a DNA test to prove he was Hemsley's brother. The results came back positive but the evidence was ruled inadmissible by El Paso judge Judge Patricia Chew because it was filed after the Oct. 15 court-mandated deadline.

Davis' spokesman told ABC-7 on Nov. 1 that he believes Thornton's case is significantly weakened now because the judge will not allow the DNA test results.

A hearing in the case had been scheduled for Oct. 31 but was moved to Nov. 9 because Thornton was not able to travel to El Paso because of Hurricane Sandy.

A statement by Mark T. Davis, the attorney for Thornton, insinuates that the owner of the funeral home has a connection to Enchinton Bernal which resulted in a delay of getting the DNA samples from Hemsley's body.

"To conduct the DNA test, LabCorp required blood sample from Thornton and hair samples from Hemsley’s body, which is at San Jose Funeral Home …,” according to the statement. "Davis said Thornton gave a blood sample the same day the judge ordered it but delay at the funeral home caused the late filing. According to the Assumed Name Records of El Paso, Stephen Vargas, is the owner of San Jose Funeral Home where Hemsley’s body is awaiting burial. In a deposition given October 23, Bernal admitted that her daughter, Jeanette Dominique Enchinton, had a romantic relationship with Stephen Vargas. Judge Chew prohibited Thornton from using the DNA evidence even though it proves conclusively that Hemsley is his brother. Davis said that even when Judge Chew postponed the trial, she still refused to allow more time to file the DNA results. The reasons are unclear said Davis, because there is no reason not to allow Thornton to file the test that conclusively proves Hemsley and Thornton are brothers.”

On Nov. 2, officials with San Jose Funeral Home said they have complied with court orders to allow Hemsley's DNA to be obtained for the tests in the case.  Alex Neill, Flora Enchinton’s attorney, said, "I don't think it's very possible or very likely that the funeral home would subject itself to potential liability based on a relation that's over 12 years old. It's a real stretch of reality to say that Mr. Vargas undertook actions that could cause liability for his business and himself personally base on a relationship that ended 12 years ago."

Thornton, speaking from Philadelphia, said that the DNA test proving conclusively that he and Hernsley are brothers should be admitted, according to his lawyer's statement. Thornton said he does not understand why Chew has excluded evidence that will resolve the case.

Enchinton Bernal told ABC-7 this past summer that Hemsley never spoke of Thornton. She has declined to comment any further until after the Nov. 9 hearing.

All bios of Hemsley had stated he was an only child raised by his mother. Enchinton Bernal said Hemsley did not meet his father until he was 14-years-old.

Davis' statement also said that Enchinton Bernal claims to have lived with Hemsley for 20 years, but admitted she is married to another man. She said she met Hemsley when he flew in from California to meet her daughter who is a singer, according to Davis' statement.

"Hemsley liked El Paso and stayed ever since," according to Davis' statement.

In an emotional and candid interview with KVIA this summer, Enchinton Bernal said she had lived with Hemsley in El Paso for the past 10 years.

Enchinton Bernal said she and Hemsley were not only partners but also best friends.

She said the pair faced great difficulties together: learning of Hemsley's diagnosis with lung cancer; the illness and incapacitation of their friend who lived with them; and the intrusion of outsiders attempting to lay claim to Hemsley's name.

Enchinton Bernal said Hemsley may have met with Wells once in the past 15 years.

"It's not right," Enchinton Bernal said. "These people are vultures. They have no right to do this to Sherman's memory."

Hemsley was memorialized during this year's Emmy Awards broadcast on ABC.

Hemsley was the star of The Jeffersons sitcom which broadcast for a decade in the 1970s-80s.

The sitcom is regarded as groundbreaking by historians, who say it was the first time in American television where a black family was portrayed as wealthy.

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