Last January, following Auburn University’s national championship win, “Al from Dadeville,” called into Paul Finebaum’s syndicated sports radio show: “The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn because I live 30 miles away, and I poisoned the Toomer’s Trees… [they] definitely will die.” The caller, incensed that War Eagle fans put a Cam Newton jersey on coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s iron-statue in Tuscaloosa, wanted to strike back at the heart of Auburn.
The Toomer’s Trees are two gigantic southern live oak trees that are right nearby Auburn’s stadium. A tradition, dubbed “rolling of the oaks,” has developed where the trees are draped with toilet paper whenever something good happens with Auburn sports (particularly football).
One day after the radio call, Auburn University discovered the trees to be surrounded with “lethal amounts” of herbicide. Currently, the trees are struggling, as Auburn horticulturalist Gary Keever recently announced: “We’re going to continue to monitor the trees, but the situation is not looking good.”
Eventually, police discovered that “Al from Dadeville” was actually Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr., a 62 year-old devotee of the Crimson Tide. Updyke was charged with a number of offenses, including criminal mischief and desecration of a venerable object, to all of which he has plead not guilty.
Today, jury selection started and already, according to some reports, the Iron Bowl rivalry is creeping into the courtroom. One of the questions submitted by one of Updyke’s attorneys asked whether a juror would, “make a decision based upon the defendant being a University of Alabama sports fan.” While none of the jurors said they would, forty-one acknowledged that they had visited or seen the trees since their poisoning, and thirty-nine testified to participating in the “rolling of the oaks” at least once.
Despite considerations regarding his image to the prospective jury or the larger defense strategy, Updyke has been unyielding about his Crimson pride, even at trial: the defendant has chosen to wear a crimson tie at most court appearances.
So, Roll tide, Mr. Updyke… perhaps, even, to jail.