Source: Harvey Updyke declines plea

Updated: January 23, 2012, 4:02 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Harvey Updyke, the Alabama fan who is accused of poisoning the famous oak trees at Toomer's Corner at Auburn University, turned down a plea offer from prosecutors that would have required him to spend 13 years in prison and never attend a Crimson Tide sporting event for the rest of his life, a source close to the case told ESPN.com on Friday.

Updyke, a former Texas state trooper, turned down the plea offer earlier this month and is scheduled to begin trial at Lee County (Ala.) Circuit Court on March 5. But Updyke's attorney, Everett Wess, asked judge Jacob A. Walker III for a delay earlier this week to enlist experts on the poisoning of trees.

Wess also asked for a change of venue to move Updyke's trial out of Auburn, Ala., and also asked Walker to recuse himself from the case because he shares in an Auburn football season ticket pool.

A Lee County grand jury in May indicted Updyke, 63, on four felony charges and two misdemeanors. He faces two felony counts of first-degree criminal mischief, two felony counts for unlawful damage, vandalism or theft of property from a farm animal or crop facility and two misdemeanor counts of desecrating a venerated object, according to court documents.

Updyke pleaded not guilty on all counts for reasons of mental disease or defect.

Under Alabama law, if convicted, Updyke could face up to 10 years in prison for each felony charge and as much as a one-year sentence and $2,000 fine on each misdemeanor.

Wess and Lee County district attorney Robert Treese III didn't return telephone calls from ESPN.com on Friday.

Updyke was arrested in February for poisoning the 130-year-old oak trees outside Toomer's Corner, which for generations have been rolled with toilet paper by Auburn fans after sports victories. Updyke is accused of applying a lethal dose of the herbicide Spike 80DF into the soil surrounding the trees.

Even after exhaustive efforts to cleanse the soil of the herbicide, arbor experts don't expect the trees to survive.

After allegedly committing the act, Updyke called into Paul Finebaum's nationally syndicated radio show on Jan. 27, 2011. Updyke identified himself as "Al from Dadeville" and bragged about poisoning the trees a week after Auburn defeated Alabama 28-27 in the Iron Bowl game on Nov. 26, 2010.

Former NBA star Charles Barkley, who played basketball at Auburn, said sentencing Updyke to 13 years in prison is too severe.

"That's too much," Barkley said. "Is he an idiot? Of course, he's an idiot. You can't let him off for free. You give him a month in jail and make him donate money to Auburn. You can't put the guy in prison for 13 years. That's crazy."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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