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Judge allows 5 infant graves to be dug up

It has been several years since Lewis B. Daily heard the stories about babies' graves being dug up and later found his twin sons' headstone about 80 feet south of its original spot in Royal Palm Cemetery.

The years have not eased his pain, and Daily hopes the latest development in a civil suit against the company that runs the cemetery will resolve some of his unanswered questions.

At a hearing Wednesday afternoon, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell agreed with attorneys on both sides of the case to allow forensic archaeologists to dig up five graves, perhaps as early as June.

The decision is significant, both sides say, because it could settle once and for all whether the cemetery dug up dozens of baby caskets in 1992 while doing construction near a section of the cemetery called Babyland. The plaintiffs representing the five graves gave their consent before the decision.

"I've shed many a tear, many a night over this," said Daily, whose sons died in 1958 hours after they were born with respiratory and heart problems. "I still do."

Daily is one of dozens of plaintiffs who filed suit in 1995 against Loewen Group International, which runs Royal Palm, accusing the company of digging up dozens of graves while constructing an irrigation ditch.

All along, the company has denied the allegations and invited a dig to resolve the emotional case, which at one time attracted more than 300 people, many of whom have settled. Now, the plaintiffs still pursuing the civil case represent about 40 graves, most of which were in the front row where the ditch was dug.

"We wanted to do this all along," said Andrew Brown, a Tampa attorney who is one of several lawyers representing the cemetery. "If there's no disturbance, then clearly, I think, we'll have won."

It will take about a day for each grave to be exhumed because of the painstaking process of sifting through layers of dirt, attorneys said.

"It seems to be the only way we're ever going to gain closure," Daily said after the hearing. "I don't like it. As traumatic as it may be, I'll just have to grin and bear it."

Clearwater Attorney Thomas Carey, who is representing the plaintiffs, said it took weeks for his clients to reach a consensus allowing the graves to be disintered.

"At first, they were so horrified by what had happened they didn't want any further disturbance of their babies' graves," he said. "There are so many unanswered questions, we want to go forward with it."

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

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