Jury selection begins in Auburn tree poison trial

Associated Press Modified: June 19, 2012 at 6:46 pm •  Published: June 19, 2012
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OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — Nearly half of the prospective jurors in the trial of an Alabama fan accused of poisoning two trees at the famed Toomer's Corner next to Auburn University said they, close friends or family have participated in the celebratory rolling of the oaks with toilet paper after Tigers victories.

Eighty-five candidates filled Judge Jacob Walker's Lee County courtroom a few miles from Auburn's campus on Tuesday, the first day of jury selection, which resumes Wednesday morning.

Forty-one of the possible jurors said they had visited or seen the century-old trees since the poisoning and 39 said they or people close to them had taken part in the celebrations at Toomer's Corner, a long-held tradition for Auburn fans after victories. That had included hurling toilet paper into them.

Among the questions submitted by defendant Harvey Updyke's attorneys: whether potential jurors would "make a decision based upon the defendant being a University of Alabama sports fan."

None of the potential jurors questioned Tuesday morning said they would, but a handful indicated they believed Updyke is guilty.

"I'm convinced that he did it," one woman said.

Another said, "I feel that he did it. Obviously he took part of something that was an offense."

Updyke is accused of poisoning the trees at an entrance to campus after Auburn beat the Crimson Tide during the Tigers' 2010 national title season. The 63-year-old has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect on charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object.

Court documents filed last year said Updyke admitted calling a radio show to say he poisoned the historic trees with a herbicide and leaving a phone message for an Auburn professor claiming knowledge of the poisoning. But an attorney for Updyke later said his client told police he didn't poison the trees.

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