Harvey Updyke admits to tree poisoning

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
10:01
AM ET
Harvey Updyke has confessed to poisoning the famed Toomer's Corner trees near Auburn University, according to a report Tuesday.

Updyke
The Auburn Plainsman reported Updyke admitted his guilt to reporter Andrew Yawn at the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika, Ala., during recess of the jury selection for his upcoming trial.

What most everyone who had heard about this tragic and extremely sad ordeal (for both sides) long suspected was revealed, and it sounds like Updyke, 63, just finally wanted to come clean about the incident that has rocked both the Auburn and Alabama fan bases.

"Did I do it? Yes," Updyke told Yawn on Monday.

Updyke wasn't pressured into fessing up, either. When he could have easily issued a standard "no comment" Updyke simply admitted his guilt when approached by Yawn outside of an elevator on the second floor of the Lee County Justice Center.

The man who denied using the Spike 80DF, a very powerful herbicide, to poison the historic, 131-year-old oaks that stand as sort of an unofficial gateway to Auburn's campus, and pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect on charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object, casually confessed before his trial had even started.

“They’re going to find me guilty … it’s a done deal,” Updyke told the Plainsman. “I don’t think I’m going to get a fair trial.”

Maybe, maybe not. Now, Updyke, who is struggling with his health, can at least have a little peace with his audacious actions. It sounds like it won't be much peace, as he told the Plainsman that he has a daughter who now won't talk to him, but confessing to his faults has to bring some sort of relief to him.

While what Updyke did was despicable and beyond reproach, it's clear that he's struggling with his identity. In 2010, he sat down with ESPN colleague Wright Thompson to talk about the Toomer trees incident, but came across as two different people. At times, he was the polite Harvey, who claims he had nothing to do with the poisoning. But at other times, he was Al from Dadeville, who infamously called into "The Paul Finebaum Show" to take credit for poisoning the oaks after Auburn beat Alabama during the Tigers' 2010 national title season.

[+] EnlargeAuburn Oaks
AP Photo/Jay ReevesThe Toomer's Corner oaks are a traditional gathering spot for Auburn fans.
Reading it brings out a few emotions. First, you're sick to your stomach thinking about someone actually going out and committing such a detestable crime, and not really having much remorse about it (Al from Dadeville). Then, you think about Harvey, and how the whole thing is just sad. A man utterly consumed with Alabama football went to the extreme to try to show his Crimson fanhood -- and failed miserably.

How much of a fan was he? Check out this excerpt from Wright's piece:
He convinced his first wife to let him name their first child Bear Bryant Updyke. When it was a girl, they named her Crimson Tyde. Their next child was a boy and, sure enough, his name was Bear. Al's two dogs are named Bama and Nicky. He has 46 Alabama hats. Last year, he found Alabama national championship T-shirts on sale for $3.41. He bought all 18 in stock. When he was 19, he ran onto the field at the Bluebonnet Bowl, carrying a roll of toilet paper and a box of Tide. More recently, he tried to convince his current wife to name a daughter Ally Bama. He begged. Her response was "Are you crazy?" She also refused to promise that she'd honor his request to bury him in crimson. Even before the Toomer's allegations, she thought he took this Alabama thing too far. She told him he better get a tattoo if he wanted to be buried with anything related to a football team.

We'll never fully dive into Updyke's mind and know exactly why he went after those trees. But this is a step toward bringing some sort of closure to Updyke's bizarre situation. His trial will continue -- he has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect on charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object. But it seems like, at long last, this case is coming to a close.

It won't help those oaks survive, but it will help drown out Updyke as much as possible. People are optimistic, but we don't know if those trees will make it. But then again, we didn't know if Updyke would come clean so easily, either.

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