AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – An Auburn man arrested for Criminal Littering for putting flowers on his fiancée’s grave has been found guilty by a municipal judge during Thursday’s Bench trial.
The judge said in open court he was tasked with following the law, not emotion, and the flowers were a clear violation based on testimony and evidence. The judge also offered his condolences to the defendant, Winchester Hagans, and the complainant, Dr. Tom Ford, for the loss of Hagans’ fiancé, who was Dr. Ford’s daughter. Hagans intends to file an appeal, which could lead to a jury trial.
In January of 2021, 27-year-old Hannah Ford was killed in a car crash the same day she picked out a wedding venue with her soon-to-be husband.
Hagans built a flower box covered with engagement pictures to place at Hannah’s grave at Auburn’s Memorial Park Cemetery. Hagans did not testify during Thursday’s trial but has said in the past the couple had a strained relationship with some members of Hannah’s family, and someone kept throwing the flowers away. Hagans kept rebuilding the box and putting the flowers back. Hagans says Hannah’s family never told him directly to stop leaving flowers.
In January of 2022, Hannah’s father, Dr. Tom Ford, signed a complaint against Hagans. Dr. Ford testified he did everything he could to avoid having the issue in court. Dr. Ford testified numerous flower boxes were placed on Hannah’s gravesite without his permission, and he located a camera in a nearby tree. Ford testified Hagans was advised not to place unauthorized items on the grave, but it didn’t stop.
A prosecutor with the city of Auburn showed the court the deed to the plot where Hannah rests belongs to her father, Dr. Tom Ford. They also presented evidence showing flower boxes were not allowed.
Sari Card, an administrative assistant with Auburn Parks and Rec responsible for maintaining the cemetery where Hannah is buried at Memorial Park, testified she informed Hagans on the phone. Dr. Ford wanted Hagans to stop putting the flower boxes on the grave. If Hagans did not, Card told him she thought Dr. Ford would take legal action and have him arrested. Card testified Hagans told her he didn’t care and he would continue making them.
Sunday, January 24th, Hagans was on his way to preach at an east Alabama church when police pulled him over for an expired tag. After running his tag, the officer came back and said there was a warrant out for Hagans’ arrest.
The complaint, dated January 4th, reads: A person commits the crime of criminal littering if he or she engages in any of the following acts: (1) Knowingly deposits in any manner litter on any public or private property or in any public or private waters, having no permission to do so. Hayden Thomas Ford is the property owner of his daughter Hannah Ford’s cemetery plot located at Memorial Park in Auburn, Alabama. Winston has posted via social media “someone keeps throwing away the flowers I plant…but each time he throws them away, I’ll plant more.” The flower box contains photos of Winston Hagans and Hannah Ford attached around the box.
Hagans’ attorney Jeff Tickal asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying there were errors in the complaint and Criminal Littering was not an appropriate charge as flowers were not litter. The judge denied the defense’s request saying the flower box was a foreign object as defined in the code.
The Judge ordered Hagans to pay a $50 fine and $251 in court costs. Hagans was not sentenced to jail. The Judge also advised Hagans to find another location to honor his fiancé‘s memory that was not on somebody else’s property.
The city prosecutor could not comment because the case is under appeal. Dr. Tom Ford also declined to comment. Hagans and his attorney say they plan to appeal.
As for Hagans, he still visits Hannah’s grave often and prays better days are ahead for all who loved her. When asked what he would say to Hannah’s father, Hagans has said, “I just want to be able to put flowers on her grave.”