published Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Alabama man agrees to remove wife's grave from front yard

  • photo
    In this Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, file photo, James Davis, 73, stands over the grave of his wife, Patsy, in the front yard of the home they shared in Stevenson, Ala.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — A north Alabama man told a judge Wednesday that he would abide by a court order to remove his wife's body from his front yard, ending a four-year legal fight that hinged on property rights and a promise to the woman before she died.

James Davis, wearing a plaid cowboy shirt and with a houndstooth hat in hand, promised Jackson County Circuit Judge Jenifer Holt during a hearing he would comply with an order she issued last year.

"I'm gonna take Mama up and have her cremated and keep the remains in the house," said Davis, 74.

Davis previously vowed to never remove the remains of his wife, Patsy Davis, who has been buried near the front porch of their log home in the city of Stevenson since shortly after her death in April 2009.

He had said he was keeping a promise to his wife by burying her there, and he maintained the city shouldn't be able to force him to remove the grave from his longtime residence.

Davis said he will hire a contractor to remove the body on Friday and will then have it cremated. Davis said the exhumation and an urn would cost $2,745, and the judge also ordered him to pay $678 for a legal transcript the city said it needed.

The city of Stevenson, located in Alabama's northeastern corner, refused a permit for Davis to bury the woman in his yard, but he did it anyway.

The city filed suit to have the body removed, and Holt agreed. She cited a state law that allows cities to regulate and prohibit private burials within town limits.

The Alabama Supreme Court recently refused to intervene in the case, and Holt held the hearing to determine how the exhumation would occur and how the costs would be covered.

Outside court, Davis said he, his children and grandchildren were "at ease" with the decision to remove the body and have it cremated.

"They can't hurt us anymore in this thing and there's been so much hurt, so much hurt," he said.

City attorney Parker Edmiston said the town tried to work with Davis, offering him two plots in the town cemetery for Patsy and himself, but the man refused to cooperate.

"He said it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and that's what he did," Edmiston said.

Davis' attorney, Tim Pittman, and Edmiston agreed that the body, casket and burial vault would be removed and the grave refilled immediately, but Davis said he would not move the stone tombstone that has marked the grave.

Edmiston said a city ordinance prohibits markers like the tombstone at homes, "but that's an issue for another day."

Davis said he had dropped a plan to declare his house a church so he could keep the grave as is.

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