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On Thursday, a judge found Winchester (Winston) Hagans guilty of criminal littering. The Alabama man had desecrated a gravesite, and for that, he was fined $50 for littering and another $250 by the court.

Ruining someone’s gravesite sounds horrible. That penalty even seems fairly mild. But when you hear the details of the story, you’ll likely see Hagans as the hero.

The bizarre story began unfolding in January of 2021, after Hannah Ford, a 26-year-old conservative activist who worked on various Republican campaigns, died in a car crash. Compounding that already horrific tragedy was the fact that she had just gotten engaged the previous month—to Winston Hagans, the son of an evangelist. The accident occurred shortly after she was driving home from visiting a possible wedding venue.

One of the ways Hagans chose to grieve was by putting flowers on her gravesite, including on the one-year anniversary of her death. While one-off flowers are permitted in the city of Auburn, Hagans said Hannah always preferred something different:

Hagans says Hannah didn’t like cut flowers from a florist, she preferred living flowers. So, that’s why he says he made this planter box and left it on her grave.

“Even though she is gone I promised her I would never bring her cut flowers again. She was the love of my life the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” he said.

Hagans built a flower box filled with her favorite flowers and decorated it with pictures of the two of them to put by her grave. He spoke with the city to ask if he was able to place his flower box by her grave.

“The people of the city told me they don’t enforce that unless a family member asked for it to be removed,” said Hagans.

He built her a flower box! It’s such a beautiful love story coming out of a very real tragedy. Who could possibly object to that gesture?

The answer? Hannah’s father, Rev. Tom Ford III, who also served as preacher at Grace Baptist Church in Montgomery. Not only did Ford call on Auburn police to have Hagans arrested for littering, he signed the warrant himself!

Hagans says he was never contacted by Ford before he was arrested.

“The officer came over and said, ‘Hey Mr. Hagans can you step out of the car there is a warrant for your arrest.’ I said, ‘No, that’s impossible there’s no way.”

There was no explanation for why Ford was going out of his way to hurt Hagans. Then again, it’s not like Ford has a good track record when it comes to morality.

A few years ago, when (disgraced former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court) Roy Moore was running for senator, dozens of pastors signed a letter expressing support for a man whose sought to impose his theocratic Christian views on the rest of the country. Tom Ford wasn’t just one of those pastors; his name was at the top of the list.

When it became public knowledge that Moore had made sexual advances on a 14-year-old girl when he was 32, and other women also spoke out about Moore’s unwanted behavior, some of those pastors asked to have their names removed from the letter since Moore’s wife was recirculating it in the hopes of maintaining support from the base. Ford, as far as I can tell, wasn’t one of them. (That could have been because Hannah worked as Moore’s deputy campaign manager. She didn’t leave the campaign after the revelations, either.)

The point is: Ford isn’t anyone’s idea of a role model. But why on earth was he so angry over a kind gesture offered by a grief-stricken potential son-in-law after he lost the love of his life… who also happened to be Ford’s daughter? No one knew!

Ford, of all people, should have understood the importance of a gravesite visit. On October 22 (months after the accident!), he posted a sermon in which he referred to missing his deceased father. (It’s around the 0:40 mark of that link.)

I think of the times I visited my father’s grave. I’d stand there and… wish I could to talk to it. And express my gratefulness, my appreciation, my love. The words that he has spoke to me that are in me, and have molded me and shaped me and made me who I am. His love for me when I was unlovable…

In that same sermon, he talked about visiting his daughter’s gravesite and grieving in much the same way. And yet when his once-future son-in-law attempted to do the same thing after Hannah’s death, bringing a flower box with him, Ford chose to have him arrested and made no public statements about why he was doing it.

On Thursday, Ford’s actions led to serious consequences. Hagans was found guilty and fined a total of $300. But the legal battle is far from over:

The defense plans to appeal the decision. However, Tom Ford’s attorney said there would be no jail time if Hagans agreed not to place any more boxes on the grave.

To put that another way, if Hagans keeps putting flower boxes on Hannah’s grave, he could go to jail. It’s just a complete abuse of power by someone whose heart shriveled up a long time ago.

At least this time, Ford offered some kind of explanation as to why he was still pursuing this case:

Hagans said Hannah’s father never approved of the relationship, and today, he verbally admitted it when testifying in court. When asked by Hagans’ attorney if Dr. Ford ever approved of his daughter dating the defendant, Dr. Ford answered, “No, I did not approve.”

Why didn’t he approve of Hagans? We have no idea. That’s the piece of this puzzle that remains unsolved.

Interestingly enough, Hagans shared a photo of a flower box on Instagram last July. He said it was the fourth time he had placed the flowers on her grave… but “someone she knew keeps trashing them. Someone keeps throwing away the flowers I plant.”

Interestingly enough, Hagans shared a photo on Instagram last July in which he showed a picture of the flower box. He said it was the fourth time he had placed the flowers on her grave… but “someone she knew keeps trashing them. Someone keeps throwing away the flowers I plant.”

We now know Ford was the one destroying those boxes. He found a way to make sure his daughter’s legacy forever centers around his own jealousy and rage.

(Portions of this article were published earlier)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.