After a four-year legal battle, an Alabama widower has agreed to exhume his deceased wife from her grave in the front yard of the home they shared together.
James E. Davis, 74, buried his wife of 48 years in the front yard of their Stevenson home according to her wishes. He first met his wife Patsy Davis when she was only seven, he was 11. She died in 2009.
The city of Stevenson opposed him using the yard as a gravesite. They cited neighbor complaints, loss of property values, and the appearance of grave in a downtown yard.
Davis told the New York Times there was no specific burial ordinance that could stop him, so “I just got a backhoe and went ahead."
The city sued a month later. A court ruled in favor of Stevenson and ordered Davis to exhume Patsy’s remains in March 2012.
Davis appealed and got a stay a in the case. On Oct. 11, however, the Alabama Supreme Court said it would not take up the case.
In a Tuesday court filing, attorneys for the city are seeking the cost of litigation against Davis and are asking Jackson County Circuit Judge Jennifer Holt to enforce the 2012 order stating "James E. Davis shall remove his wife's remains from its current location ... and inter her remains in a properly licensed and approved cemetery."
Davis has agreed to move the remains, but that doesn’t mean he’ll remove the grave. He plans to have her cremated, although he said she'd been afraid of cremation.
"If she saw herself as she is now, I know she would not mind," he told the New York Times.
His attorney Timothy Pittman says the city’s victory is meaningless.
"The court's order is for the remains to be removed, but Mr. Davis does not intend to remove the headstone or the cement vault and the casket will remain," Pittman told AL.com. "Hopefully, the city will reconsider since the site will never be moved."
The city’s complaint was against the appearance of his yard, but the court order doesn’t change that appearance. Given this, Pittman is hopeful the city will back down.
"When it comes right down to it, the result hasn't changed anything for anybody but Mr. Davis," he said. "In particular, exhuming a body is a crazy remedy and a really emotionally trying thing. When it's time for a shovel to meet dirt, hopefully the city will see it's not worth it."
His neighbors said it was strange at first but they have grown used to the grave.
“It’s his wife,” Margaret Garner, 56, told the Times. “He’s got the right.”
Davis has until Nov. 11 to file an appeal in federal court, but Pittman says he has not yet decided to do so. Pittman told AL.com that Davis still believes the court’s order is "logically and factually incorrect."