Alabama fan freed in Auburn tree poisoning case
OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — The University of Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn University’s landmark oak trees at Toomer’s Corner has been released from jail and cleared to leave the state.
Harvey Updyke Jr., 64, left the Lee County jail in Opelika on Monday morning after serving 76 days following his guilty plea. Attorney Andrew Stanley said Updyke was on his way to Louisiana where he will live with his wife, Elva.
“He’s very sincere. He wants to go back to Louisiana and never wants to be heard from ever again,” Stanley said.
Updyke also was arrested last September, accused of making a threatening remark to workers at a Lowe’s store in Hammond, La.
“Certainly, he’s got this case pending in Louisiana that he wants to take care of. I think that’s going to be one of the first things he does when he gets down there,” Stanley said.
“He doesn’t want to have to deal with this anymore. He wants to pay his money back and be done with the five years, and never be heard from again.”
Sporting a handlebar mustache, Updyke was escorted to his bail bondsman’s pickup truck outside the Lee County Courthouse by a sheriff’s deputy. A judge banned him from talking to the media, and Updyke did not respond to a reporter’s question.
Updyke pleaded guilty in March to one count of unlawful damage of an animal or crop facility. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and credited with 104 days for time already served.
Updyke will be on probation for the next five years with terms including a 7 p.m. curfew, a ban from attending any college sporting event and from stepping foot on Auburn University property.
He is also banned from that Lowe’s store under the probation terms.
Updyke was arrested after a man calling himself “Al from Dadeville” — Updyke’s middle name is Almorn — phoned Paul Finebaum’s radio show claiming he poured herbicide around the 130-year-old oaks after Auburn’s win over rival Alabama during the 2010 national championship season. The caller signed off by saying, “Roll Damn Tide.”
Finebaum said he met with Updyke for about an hour at the jail Sunday morning, a visit he said was cleared by the district attorney, sheriff and county attorney. He said he had a “specific reason” for the visit, but declined to elaborate.
“It was not my intent to reveal this conversation,” said Finebaum, who begins work for ESPN and the SEC Network later this summer.
Stanley said he didn’t learn about the meeting until Monday.
“I don’t know the actual substance of the conversation,” the attorney said. “I don’t believe it was anything that I would consider an interview with the media, but no offense to the media whatsoever, I don’t want him saying hello to y’all.”
Prosecutors are seeking $1 million in restitution for the trees. Stanley said he wants a full hearing on the issue and called the amount excessive.
The skeletal trees were removed on April 23, days after tens of thousands of Auburn fans gathered for one final celebratory rolling following the spring game.
Auburn is planning to sell framed memorabilia featuring twigs, leaves and other parts of the oak trees, jewelry, and other items.
Updyke, meanwhile, has been a polarizing figure in a bitter college football rivalry for more than two years. Alabama has won three of the last four football national titles, while Auburn won the other one.
Stanley said Updyke’s granddaughter was born during his jail term.
“He’s looking forward to getting back to Louisiana to see his granddaughter, his daughter and be able to get back to living a normal life, which certainly hasn’t been the case since 2010,” the attorney said.
Stanley said Updyke had one request upon his release.
“He wanted a banana and he got a banana,” he said. “That’s it.”