STEVENSON, Alabama — Weeping relatives watched as the body of an Alabama woman was exhumed from her front yard Friday, a bitter end for her husband who fought to keep her remains buried there.
With husband James Davis, his five children and some grandchildren standing by the log home, a crew unearthed the body of Patsy Davis from beside the front porch. Flowers still sat atop her tombstone.
Workers used a loud winch to lift a concrete vault containing the casket and body out of the ground. Daughter Rita Webb burst into tears as a cable slipped with a loud clang.
It was all over in about an hour, a contrast to the four years of court hearings, orders and appeals.
"She would not believe that they did what they did to her, because she never deserved this," said Davis, 74.
James and Patsy Davis were married for 48 years, but she died in 2009 after years of health problems. Davis said it was his wife's dying wish to remain at their house, located on one of the busiest streets in tiny Stevenson, an old railroad town in Alabama's northeastern corner with about 2,600 residents.
The city refused permission for Davis to bury his wife in the yard, but he did it anyway. The city sued to remove the grave and a county judge agreed. The Alabama Supreme Court effectively ended the case last month by refusing to overturn the decision.
Davis — who previously vowed his wife's remains would never be removed while he was alive — said he didn't think he would live to see them unearthed.
The remains are being cremated and placed in an urn, which Davis said he will keep at home.
"I'm adjusting to what's going on," said Davis. "I've come to the realization that in the end Mama winds up ashes anyway 'cause we all go back to dust."
Neighbor Phyllis Matthews watched as the vault containing the casket was raised from the ground.
"I'm sorry for the family, what they're going through," Matthews said. "I lost my mother back in April. I'd hate to think it was my mother they were digging up. But she's buried in a cemetery."
City attorney Parker Edmiston did not attend the exhumation, but he said during a hearing earlier in the week that Davis buried the woman at home despite the city's opposition.
"He said it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and that's what he did," Edmiston said.
The sheriff and a deputy were on hand to make sure there weren't any problems, and there weren't.
While Davis called the exhumation "a travesty," Jackson County Circuit Judge Jenifer Holt ruled that state law gives cities the right to regulate and prohibit private burials.
"This never should have happened," he said. "I broke no laws."