Alabama man who placed flower boxes at fiancee’s grave found guilty of littering

AUBURN, Ala. — An Alabama man arrested for placing planter boxes on his fiancee’s grave against the wishes of the woman’s father has been found guilty of criminal littering, a judge ruled Thursday.

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Winston “Winchester” Hagans, 31, appeared in Auburn Municipal Court to face misdemeanor charges after a complaint signed by the Rev. Tom Ford, the father of Hannah Ford, according to AL.com.

Hagans was found guilty of one count of criminal littering and was fined $50 plus $251 in court costs, the Opelika-Auburn News reported. Judge Jim McLaughlin also suspended a 30-day jail sentence, which will remain suspended as long as Hagans does not place any more boxes on the grave, according to the newspaper.

After the ruling, Hagans’ defense attorney, Jeff Tickal, gave a verbal notice of appeal, the News reported. He plans to file a written appeal before the 14-day deadline, according to the newspaper. If the appeal is granted, the case will go to the Lee County Circuit Court for a new trial and the initial fine and court costs will be dropped.

Attorneys for the prosecution and defense declined to comment after the ruling was handed down, the News reported.

Hagans’ fiancee, Hannah Leigh Ford, was killed in a three-car crash in Montgomery, Alabama, on Jan. 17, 2021, three days after her 27th birthday, according to her obituary.

On the day Hannah Ford died, the couple visited their future wedding site in Notasulga, Alabama. They were expecting to get married there on May 1, 2021, The Washington Post reported.

Hannah Ford’s automobile crash happened about a mile from her home. Hagans said Ford’s family, who had a strained relationship with him, made it clear that he was not welcome at her funeral, according to the newspaper. However, Hagans was mentioned in Hannah Ford’s obituary.

>> Trial set for Alabama man jailed for placing flowers at fiancee’s grave

After she died, Hagans built Hannah Ford a planter box with flowers and photographs of the couple at her grave at Memorial Park Cemetery in Auburn, Alabama, WSB-TV reported. Hagans said his fiancee hated cut flowers, the television station reported.

The box was inscribed with the lyrics from “Of Crows and Crowns” by Dustin Kensrue, AL.com reported. Hagans said the planter kept getting removed, but he replaced it every time.

“You don’t stop loving someone when they’re gone,’’ Hagans told AL.com. “Love is forever.”

Hagans said Hannah Ford’s family never told him directly to stay away from his fiancee’s grave or stop leaving flowers, WRBL-TV reported.

Her grave was initially owned by Tom Ford’s brother-in-law and was transferred to him on May 14, 2021, the News reported. The deed is through the City of Auburn, and the cemetery is operated by the city.

Hagans’ legal problems began when he was pulled over on Jan. 24, 2022, as he was driving to preach at Purpose Baptist Church in the Auburn-Opelika area, according to AL.com.

That was when he learned he had an outstanding warrant for misdemeanor criminal littering.

Tom Ford, the father, testified during the hearing and admitted he did not approve of his daughter’s relationship with Hagans, a student studying education and theology and the son of evangelist Rick Hagans, AL.com reported.

“I find no joy to be here, and I did everything I could not to be here,” Tom Ford told the court, according to the News. He added that he had removed 10 planter boxes from his daughter’s gravesite.

“The first box, when I saw where it was, I picked it up and it fell apart,” Ford told the court. “It was a rotten piece of wood with some pictures on it, so I discarded it.”

Sari Card, the administrative assistant of Auburn Parks and Recreation, testified that she had several discussions with Hagans about the planter boxes.

“He said he didn’t care,” Card told the court. “(He said) that every time a box is removed he would make another one to replace it.”

In making his ruling, McLaughlin told both parties that the case was “a terrible situation,” the News reported.

“But I don’t get paid to have emotions or to rule on what’s right, or what’s nice, or what’s moral, or what’s Christian. I’m paid to rule on the law and the facts. When you take all the other out of it … you got a deed that says no boxes. You got a gentleman who’s been told no boxes by the City of Auburn uncontroverted testimony,” the judge said. “You got a gentleman who says -- this frankly is where I lose my patience -- ‘I don’t care what the rules are and what the law says, I’m gonna do what I want.’

“It’s a clear case of violation of this deed and violation of littering statute. The box does not occur naturally in nature. It is a foreign substance. Whether it’s pretty or not is not a consideration for this court.”