Man pleads guilty in poisoning of famous Auburn trees
An Alabama man pleaded guilty Friday to poisoning oak trees that drew generations of Auburn University football fans celebrating victories, officials said.
Harvey Updyke will serve at least six months of a three-year sentence for criminal damage to an agricultural facility, a felony, Lee County District Attorney Robbie Treese said in a statement.
The plea brings to an end the criminal proceedings in an act in 2010 that outraged Auburn fans and others upset that the trees at Toomer's Corner were poisoned.
Upon release, Updyke will be under five years of supervised probation, which includes a 7 p.m. curfew, a ban on attending any collegiate event and a ban on stepping on Auburn University property. Updyke, who is in his mid-60s, also will be assessed restitution, Treese said.
"Whether or not Mr. Updyke can manage to stay on probation is entirely up to him," the prosecutor said in a statement. "Despite the destruction he has caused, no one is capable of diminishing the spirit of our community."
Auburn police two years ago arrested Updyke for allegedly dousing the landmark trees on the edge of the Auburn campus with herbicide so potent that agronomists said they had little to no chance of survival.
Authorities first learned of the herbicide after a caller who identified himself as "Al from Dadeville" phoned into a Birmingham, Alabama, radio talk show, saying he had poisoned the renowned oaks after Auburn won a contentious November 2010 football game against the University of Alabama. "Al" ended the call with "Roll Damn Tide," a battle cry for the University of Alabama.
Fans typically gathered around the trees after wins, draping them with toilet paper. According to reports, Auburn last month announced the historic trees could not be saved.
Treese said the plea will allow his office to tend to violent felonies and save the county extensive costs associated with a trial. "I could not in good conscience justify financing a three-week trial merely to arrive at no better a resolution."