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Man accused of poisoning trees in Auburn hires attorney; Tide, Tiger fans unite to plant trees together

Photo by Michelle Campbell

Photo by Michelle Campbell

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A Birmingham attorney plans to represent the man accused of poisoning the oak trees at Toomer's Corner on Auburn's campus after three predecessors withdrew.

Glennon Threatt Jr. said Wednesday he has spoken with Harvey Updyke Jr. "extensively about the case" by phone and filed a notice of appearance in Lee County Circuit Court.

Updyke had called a radio show Jan. 27 saying he poisoned the trees at Toomer's Corner, where Auburn fans have for years celebrated wins, after the Alabama-Auburn game.

"He gave what's tantamount to a confession on the radio, but he told the police that he didn't do it," Threatt said when asked if Updyke had discussed his guilt or innocence. "What I don't know enough about him yet to determine is whether or not he's the type of person, because of some emotional or psychological thing, that might take credit for something he didn't do. That would not be far-fetched, particularly for a guy that's got kids named Crimson Tyde and Bear Bryant."

Threatt, a Princeton graduate who attended the Howard University School of Law, said that Updyke is an unusual man, but seems to be "a very affable and friendly person."

"I enjoyed the times I've talked to him," Threatt said. "And I'm looking forward to representing him. I expect this case to be a lot of fun."

Court-appointed attorneys Jerry Hauser and Philip Tyler withdrew from the case citing conflicts of interest. Updyke then retained Jerry Blevins of Montgomery, who asked to be removed because of an "irreconcilable conflict" with the defendant.

Circuit Clerk Corinne Hurst said her office has received the faxed notice from Threatt, but it won't be official until received in person, electronically or through mail.

Threatt's office says it was sent Tuesday through first-class mail. Threatt, who represented former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford on bribery charges, said he's taken this case pro bono.

Updyke is free on bond on a first-degree criminal mischief charge. Threatt says a preliminary hearing will be held March 2.

In Auburn, workers finished replacing poisoned soil down to about 18 inches around the trees Wednesday morning in efforts to save the 130-year-old oaks, university spokesman Mike Clardy said.

Student leaders from both Auburn and Alabama also held a news conference at Toomer's Corner announcing that two sister trees will be planted on each campus as an expression of unity.

The tree poisoning has angered Auburn fans, prompting thousands of people to attend a "Toomer's Tree Hug" rally over the weekend. Threatt said Updyke's tires were slashed in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

"Setting aside the sentimental value of the trees, it's not a very complex case," Threatt said. "It's a vandalism case at its core, and it's a situation he ... brought to the attention of authorities because of an interview on a radio show."

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RIVALS GET TOGETHER TO PLANT TREES:

AUBURN, Ala. -- Students from Auburn University and the University of Alabama say they will plant two sister trees on each campus as a symbol of unity in the wake of recent vandalism to the storied live oaks at Toomer's Corner on the Auburn campus.

Student leaders from both schools announced the plan during a Wednesday news conference.

Student government association presidents Kurt Sasser of Auburn and James Fowler of Alabama said they hope the project will create a permanent and visible representation of mutual respect for the age-old rivalry between the two schools.

The two century-old oak trees at Toomer's Corner have been the scene for Auburn celebrations for decades.

Authorities accused Harvey Updyke of dumping a powerful herbicide into the soil around the trees.