Dispute over actor's body heads to El Paso courtroom

Bench trial begins in probate case of Sherman Hemsley estate

Who gets the body?

EL PASO - Who gets the body?

Exactly two months after the death of actor Sherman Hemsley, the dispute over his body and estate heads to an El Paso courtroom for the first day of a bench trial.

Hemsley's will is being contested by Richard Thornton, in Philadelphia, who claims to be the dead actor's half brother.

According to court documents obtained by KVIA, Judge Patricia Chew ordered testing be performed on September 21.

It is not clear whether or not the results of the test will be presented in court on Monday.

A June will signed by Hemsley, one month before he died, directs that his entire estate be left to Flora Enchinton Bernal, whom Hemsley refers to as his "beloved partner."

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

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

She says 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 on Saturday at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, in front of a handful of attendees.

Enchinton Bernal says Hemsley may have met with Wells once in the past 15 years.  She says Hemsley never spoke of a man named Richard Thornton.

It is generally accepted that Hemsley was an only child and was raised by his mother.

Enchinton Bernal says Hemsley did not meet his father until he was 14-years-old.

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

Hemsley's embalmed body remains in a locked refrigerator at the San Jose Funeral Home in east El Paso.

His estate is listed in probate documents to be worth more than $50,000.

Hemsley was memorialized during Sunday night'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.

The Jeffersons is still the longest-running television program with a predominantly black cast.

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