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Judge names owner of neglected cemetery

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

After more than 20 years, a judge has finally ruled who owns Lincoln Cemetery.

WSFA 12 News has covered the cemetery's conditions for quite some time--tall grass, broken graves, even exposed remains.

Over the last few years, efforts have been made to clean it up, but no one could ever determine who owned the property.

It sits at the corner of Harrison Road and Lincoln Road, behind the Ann Street Wal-Mart.

Amidst an ongoing battle in the courtroom is an ongoing effort to revitalize the sacred spot.

"How often am I out here? Sometimes everyday except Sunday," says Phyllis Armstrong.

She works tirelessly to clean up the cemetery.

"It's part of me...it's something I love. My children say, 'Mom, your living room is Lincoln.'"

You'd think she owned the property, but no.

She just wants to know who does.

"The judge declared we're the owner of the entire cemetery, "says Attorney Steve NeSmith.  NeSmith appealed a judge's ruling which declares the entire piece of property belongs to his client, Bobby Cheney.

"What my client bought was this 15 acre parcel right here."

NeSmith says his client bought the 15 acres in the 1980's, from a man named Frederick Berrey.

He says Berrey sold the other half to someone else and Cheney shouldn't be responsible for it.

"All this area where the trees are behind me was sold to Star City," says NeSmith.

The second reason NeSmith appealed the judge's ruling is he says his client handed the land back to Berrey more than 20 years ago.

"When the mortgage became due, Mr. Cheney didn't have any way to pay it, so he sought legal advice and deeded the property back to Mr. Berrey in lieu of foreclosure," says NeSmith.

Berrey's attorneys say Berrey never knew the deed was returned and therefore didn't challenge it in court, only to say he believed it was a fraud.

NeSmith says that still means the last deed on record has Berrey's name on it.

"We think he's the owner today," says NeSmith.

Even though the litigation may not be completely over, it's still a step in the right direction. Those involved in this entire process say that in and of itself is a relief.

"We hope something is solved and something gets done about this," says Armstrong.

The judge still hasn't ruled on the appeal.

He must rule on the appeal within 90 days or his original ruling naming Bobby Cheney the owner stands.

Once an owner is confirmed, the City of Montgomery will begin billing that person for the work maintenance crews did to clean up Lincoln Cemetery over the last few years.  Montgomery Public Works Director Chris Conway believes that total is between $4,000 and $6,000 dollars.

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