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Lawyer: DNA tests reveal Sherman Hemsley had a brother; decision on star's burial delayed

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Sherman Hemsley and his late "Jeffersons" co-star, Isabel Sanford. (REUTERS)

Earlier this week FOX411's Pop Tarts column  revealed that more than three months after the death of Sherman Hemsley, "The Jeffersons" star has still not laid to rest due to bizarre legal proceedings centered on three different parties claiming to be the rightful executor of his estate and his body.

Hemsley's manager and self-proclaimed live-in best friend, Flora Enchinton, was named the sole beneficiary in his will. Yet after his death, a Philadelphia man named Richard Thornton claimed he was the actor's brother, and filed a civil lawsuit disputing the validity of the will. Then a third person, Rev. Michael George Wells, told us that he was a cousin on Hemsley's mother's side, and the closest family to the actor. 

The bench trial to determine Hemsley's rightful beneficiary was scheduled to commence in El Paso, Texas on October 31, but Judge Patricia Chew postponed the case until November 9, when she will rule on who has the right to determine where Hemsley's body will be buried or cremated, and whether his will is valid.

According to Mark T. Davis, an attorney for Thornton, the trial was delayed because his client was unable to travel from his home in Philadelphia due to Hurricane Sandy. At a hearing in late September, Chew ordered DNA testing to determine the Thornton/Hemsley relationship and insisted results be filed by October 15, 2012.

Thornton's legal counsel tells FOX411 that the DNA results prove he was the late actor's brother, but say the evidence has been ruled inadmissable.

"Although the DNA testing proved that Thornton is Hemsley's brother, Judge Chew said Thornton will not be allowed to present the DNA test as evidence because it was filed after the deadline," Davis said in a statement issued to FOX411's Pop Tarts column. "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 in El Paso. Davis said Thornton gave a blood sample the same day the judge ordered it, but delay at the funeral home caused the late filing."

"When Judge Chew postponed the trial, she still refused to allow more time to file the DNA results," the statement continued. "Thornton said he does not understand why Judge Chew has excluded the evidence that will resolve the case."

In another bizarre twist, the statement alleged that in a deposition given on October 23, Enchinton admitted that her daughter, Jeanette Dominique Enchinton, had a "romantic relationship" with Stephen Vargas, the owner of the San Jose Funeral Home where Hemsley's body is awaiting burial.

Flora Enchinton's lawyer explained the relationship noted in the deposition.

"My client was asked in her deposition about her daughter and Mr. Vargas the gentleman who owned the funeral home. They dated years ago for a short time. They are not dating now. They haven’t been dating. Mr. Vargas is married and has children. It’s more than unfortunate that he’s being dragged through the mud by these insinuations," said attorney Alexander V. Neill. 

Neill also stood by the judge's deadline for DNA evidence.

"The Judge set the deadline to get the DNA evidence by October 15th.  Mr. Davis’ motion for continuance to extend that deadline was filed on the 19th, four days after the deadline expired on the 15th. His motion for continuance contains no mention as to why he needed additional time. It was only after the court granted a pre-trial motion excluding the DNA evidence for failure to meet the deadline that these new allegations surfaced," Neill said. "The funeral home was ordered to cooperate in allowing the lab tech to obtain the sample. Yet Mr. Davis filed no motion or sought no relief when this alleged interference was going on. I seriously doubt that Mr. Vargas would subject himself and his business to potential liability for a relationship that was over years ago."

Davis's office said that the Texas Health and Safety Code would give a sibling the right to decide what will be done with Hemsley's remains. But Enchinton's lawyer said: "It’s also important to note that even if the DNA evidence comes in, it’s not dispositive of the issue on disposition of the remains."

Stephen Vargas, the San Jose Funeral Home, George Michael Wells, and a rep for Hemsley did not respond to requests for comment.

Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.

 

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