The legal battle over Sherman Hemsley's body ended Friday when Judge Patricia
Chew ruled in favor of Hemsley's business partner, Flora Isela Enchinton
Bernal said she wants to bury the television star at Fort Bliss National Cemetery and invited Richard Thornton, Hemsley's half-brother who contested Hemsley's will, to attend.
"I just want to put him to rest and give him that dignity and that respect. And anyone else that wants to join us and come by can do so -- because that's what Sherman was all about -- love," a teary-eyed Bernal said after the hearing in probate court.
Hemsley, who starred in TV sitcom "The Jeffersons," died of lung cancer July 24 in El Paso. He was 74.
After his death, Thornton, of Philadelphia, said he was Hemsley's brother and challenged Hemsley's will that stated Bernal was his sole beneficiary.
That delayed funeral arrangements and Hemsley's body was kept at the San Jose Funeral Home in East El Paso.
DNA tests showed Friday that 78-year-old Thornton is Hemsley's half-brother. He wanted to bury his brother at a veterans' cemetery in Philadelphia, where Hemsley grew up.
According to a deposition from Michael Wayne Schmiderer, a DNA expert with testing company Labcorp, the DNA tests show there is a 99.99 percent probability that Hemsley and Thornton are half-brothers.
During his testimony, Thornton said Hemsley was born from an extramarital relationship his father had.
"He was a Methodist minister and would have been bad for his career," Thornton said of their father.
During the hearing Friday, Thornton's lawyer, Mark T. Davis, tried to establish that the will was not valid, that Hemsley was not of sound mind when he agreed to it and that Hemsley's signature was forged.
However, witnesses described Hemsley as appearing well, joking around and talkative when he reviewed and signed his will.
Davis questioned the attorney and notary who did Hemsley's will. He also asked Julian Horwitz why he took instructions from Bernal.
"He said he wanted all of his possessions, whatever they were, to pass to Ms. Bernal," Horwitz said. "At no point did I ever suspect he lacked capacity, based on my 50 years of experience as a lawyer."
Heinz-Ulrich Landeck, a nurse at Sierra Providence East Medical Center, where Hemsley was being treated, said, "He was always an oriented person of the time and place and who he was."
Robert Almonte, the U.S. marshal for the Western District of Texas and a friend of Hemsley's since 1999, testified that Hemsley told him Bernal was his only family.
"I asked about family in Philadelphia, about wanting to go back," Almonte said, recalling one of their conversations. "He said no. He said Flora was his family."
Alex Neill, Bernal's lawyer, asked Thornton if he and other family members were familiar with Hemsley's signature.
"No," Thornton said. "But there could have been (family members) that were."
While on the stand, Thornton also said that Hemsley had introduced him as his brother in 2011 in front of a crowd during Hemsley's concert in Cherry Hill, N.J. However, the two did not keep in touch, Thornton said.
"We just had two separate lives," he said.
After listening to testimony, Chew decided the will was valid.
"It is clear that from the testimony that Mr. Hemsley knew the object of his bounty, there has not been any evidence of forgery of his signature," Chew said. "Therefore, after listening to the testimony, the court orders that the last will and testament for Sherman Alexander Hemsley is valid and that Ms. Bernal is the sole executor of the will."
Court documents indicate Hemsley's estate is worth more than $50,000.
Davis said afterward that he would seek an immediate stay of Chew's ruling to prevent the burial from taking place. He said they will appeal.
Upon hearing the ruling, Thornton remained calm but his daughter, Louise Thornton, put her head down in disappointment.
Afterward, the family attempted to avoid the media by using a back stairwell at the courthouse.
Richard Thornton did not comment on the ruling, but his daughter said the hearing has been physically and emotionally taxing on her father.
"It's upsetting because he didn't come after money, he came to bury his brother and it turned into a three-ring circus and I think it's horrible," she said. "You know Sherman's whole family is from Philadelphia. Not here."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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