AUBURN, Ala. (NewsNation) — An Alabama man who is in a legal battle over littering because he left flowers on his fiancée’s grave says he also can’t get his engagement ring back.
Winston “Winchester” Hagans was convicted of criminal littering and ordered to pay about $300 for repeatedly placing boxes full of flowers on the grave of his fiancée, whose father didn’t like the decorations or approve of their relationship.
The Opelika-Auburn News reported that Hagans was convicted Thursday in Auburn city court on a warrant signed by the Rev. Tom Ford, the father of Hannah Ford, who died in a wreck in January 2021 about a month after becoming engaged to Hagans.
Hagans spoke out about the controversy Monday on NewsNation’s “Banfield” and said that he was never directly contacted by Ford after Hannah passed away.
“The last direct contact I had with him was a text message between myself, him and the lawyer he got to represent him getting Hannah’s estate, where he promised to give me back her engagement ring,” Hagans said.
However, Ford apparently refuses to give Hagans the ring.
He also disclosed that he was never given any notice before being handcuffed.
Evidence showed that Hagans repeatedly put small planter boxes with flowers on the woman’s grave, and her father repeatedly removed them. Under Alabama law, citizens can obtain arrest warrants in municipal court under certain circumstances.
Since May 2021, Ford testified, a total of 10 boxes have been placed on the grave, and he either discarded them or sent them back to Hagans.
“The first box, when I saw where it was, I picked it up and it fell apart,” Ford said. “It was a rotten piece of wood with some pictures on it, so I discarded it.”
Ford said he “certainly did not” approve of the relationship between his daughter and Hagans, which he heard about second- or third-hand because she didn’t tell him about it.
The cemetery is owned by the city, and municipal prosecutor Justin Clark said regulations prohibit “benches, urns, boxes, shells, toys and other similar articles” on graves.
City employee Sari Card said she told Hagans that Ford didn’t want the boxes on the grave and planned legal action.
“He said he didn’t care, that every time a box is removed, he would make another one to replace it,” she said.
While the defense argued that flower boxes aren’t litter, Judge Jim McLaughlin, who convicted Hagans in a non-jury trial, said the boxes were “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,” he said.
The defense said it would appeal the conviction to circuit court, where a jury can hear the case. Aside from a $50 fine and $251 in court costs, Hagans received a 30-day jail sentence that was suspended on the condition he doesn’t place additional flowers on the grave.
“We were supposed to print our wedding invitations the next day, and we were just waiting to finalize the venue. She said, ‘Well, Hannah’s not here,’ and my heart dropped. I knew something was wrong.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.