DNA results show man is half-brother of actor Sherman Hemsley; results not accepted in estate case, lawyer claims
Editor's Note: On Nov. 2, 2012 officials with San Jose Funeral Home said they complied with court orders to allow Sherman 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.""
A man who says he is Sherman Hemsley's half-brother says DNA testing confirms that claim, according to Mark T. Davis, who is representing the man.
Richard Thornton, of Philadelphia, has been contesting Hemsley's will in an El Paso court to lay claim to the dead actor's estate.
But Judge Patricia Chew will not consider the DNA results in the case because they were admitted a week past the Oct. 15 deadline, according to a statement by Davis.
Davis' spokesman told ABC-7 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.
Hemsley died at his El Paso home of lung cancer 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.
Davis' statement 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.”
Vargas, who is listed as the funeral home's owner according to the Better Business Bureau, could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2012. (Editor's Note: On Nov. 2, 2012 officials with San Jose Funeral Home said they complied with court orders to allow Sherman 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 said Hemsley never spoke of Thornton.
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 Bernal claims to have lived with Hemsley for 20 years, but admitted she is married to another man. Bernal 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.
Shortly after Hemsley's death on July 24, a man claiming to be the late actor's cousin attempted to hold a memorial service in Hemsley's name in Philadelphia.
Michael Wells' memorial service plans were squashed after the integrity of his relationship was called into question. The memorial service was finally held a few weeks ago at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia in front of a handful of attendees.
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.
ABC-7 Reporter Matt Dougherty contributed to this report
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