The jury selection for the most notorious trial in the history of Alabama was scheduled to resume this morning as Harvey Updyke, Jr., is finally being brought to trial in sleepy Lee County for the attempted murder of two trees. Actually, you can’t murder a tree, although you can kill one, so Updyke is being formally charged for malicious mischief, which could get him up to 10 years in jail if he’s proven guilty.
Already there is a wrench in the “most intriguing case ever” because on Monday, the first day of the circus, Updyke told a comely female reporter for the Auburn Plainsman, “Yeah, I did it,” but Updyke’s lawyer, Everett Wess, immediately claimed his client had misspoken, of course, and the judge hopes to have a jury seated by later today.
You may remember that in February of 2010 a kooky call-in caller phoned the Paul Finebaum Show in Birmingham to brag that he had poisoned the two landmark trees in Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner because he was so mad Cam Newton on the AU Tigers had beaten Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Normally people would have laughed, but there was something decidedly ominous about the caller, who identified himself as “Al from Dadeville.”
Sure enough the Feds closed in and soon collared a former Texas Highway Patrolman who has such a huge penchant for all things Alabama he named a son “Bear Bryant” and a daughter “Crimson Tyde.” That was cute at first but since then all three have gotten death threats after it was proven Harvey had driven to Auburn in his pickup truck and liberally dosed the ground around the Toomer Oaks with a herbicide so powerful it is not sold over-the-counter.
Auburn immediately launched a massive project to save the trees, which Auburn students traditionally festoon with toilet tissue after big games, and archrival Alabama sent busloads of volunteers and money in an effort to appease the great emotional scars “Al From Dadeville” has wrought.
The jokesters had a field day. One radio caller from Auburn called to say he’d done the same thing to 16 large streets surrounding the stadium in Tuscaloosa, but a police sergeant said he had checked and all 1`6 telephone poles were fine. On a more serious note, Auburn sent hundreds to Tuscaloosa last year, in the name of Harvey Updyke, to help with the catastrophic tornado damage.
But now it is time to pay the piper. The official plea Updye is using is that he is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect on charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object. Law experts insist he can get a fair trial but the evidence is monumental against the 63-year old who has now lost 50 pounds and reportedly takes a myriad of daily medications.
In April of last year Updyke alleged he was sucker punched at a gas station near Auburn but police investigations could find no witnesses. Since then he has left his fishing cabin in Dadeville and been living quietly in Florida. He attempted to watch a women’s softball game in Tuscaloosa last month but was quickly told to leaves the premises and the university has disavowed him from all events and will not sell him tickets to athletic games.
With the jury hopefully struck today, the trial is expected to be speedy, particularly if he pleads guilty in opening statements. It will be in direct contrast to the Pennsylvania trial now underway featuring alleged child molester Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and – honestly – is far less serious.
It is the first known case of a man being tried for killing a tree, although George Washington is said to have once copped a plea after dispatching a certain cherry tree. Unlike our Founding Father, most observers feel that Harvey Updyke, a.k.a. “Al From Dadeville,” will get some jail time due to the notoriety of the case.
And, for the record, the Toomer Oaks still show signs of life, although Auburn horticulturists report their summer foliage is down by about 80 percent.