Harvey Updyke Pleas Guilty to the Poisoning of the Toomer's Oaks

By: AL.com
By: AL.com

WETUMPKA, Alabama – Harvey Updyke Jr. was sentenced to three years by a Lee County judge Friday after pleading guilty to a charge of criminal damage of an agricultural facility related to the poisoning of the Toomer's Oaks in 2010.

Updyke was sentenced Friday afternoon by Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker II after changing his plea from not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to guilty as part of a plea agreement. Criminal damage of an agricultural facility is a class c-felony, according to the Lee County District Attorney's Office.

The plea deal ends a case that has gone on for more than two years since news of the poisoning of the oaks at the corner of the Auburn University campus broke in early 2011. The university plans to cut down the trees on April 23.

Updyke's attorney Andrew Stanley said his client apologized to the court, his family and the state of Alabama for the poisoning of the trees.

"He was very remorseful about what he had done," Stanley said.

Stanley said Updyke met with his attorneys earlier this week and agreed to the plea deal.

"Harvey was ready to get it behind him," Stanley said.

Under the deal for a three-year split sentence, Updyke must remain incarcerated for six months and will be on five years of supervised probation after his release, according to the district attorney's office. Under probation, Updyke is forbidden from attending any collegiate sports event, has a 7 p.m. curfew, cannot talk with the media, and is banned from any AU property. Updyke is also forbidden from going to the Lowe's Home Improvement store in Hammond, La., where he was arrested in September 2012 and is required to abide by all the directives of the judge presiding in that cases, according to court documents.

Restitution will be determined by the court at a later date.

'Whether or not Mr. Updyke can manage to stay on probation is entirely up to him. Despite the destruction he has caused, no one is capable of diminishing the spirit of our community," Lee County District Attorney Robbie Treese said in a statement released by his office.

Treese declined to talk about any previous deal offers. He said the resolution would allow him to focus on more serious cases.

"Now we can focus our attention hopefully on those who need us most," Treese said.

Treese said in a statement released from his office it would be hard to justify the time and expense of a trial in Elmore County, which could last as long as three weeks.

"We have a significant number of violent felonies awaiting trial in Lee County, and I could not in good conscience justify financing a three week trial merely to arrive at no better a solution," Treese said in a prepared statement.

Updyke was charged with a series of Class-C felonies and Class-A misdemeanors. A Class-C felony carries a potential sentence of 1 year and 1 day to 10 years. The Class-A misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to one year imprisonment.

Updyke has 104 days of jail credit and must serve 76 more, Stanley said. Updyke is scheduled to complete the remainder of the sentence at the Lee County Detention Center in the medical pod because of his health, Stanley said.

Stanley added the length of incarceration was among the chief concerns for the defense.

Updyke originally faced charges criminal mischief, desecration of a venerated object and unlawful damage to a crop facility charges. He was tentatively scheduled for a second trial attempt during the criminal term beginning April 8 in Elmore County. Walker changed the venue to Elmore County on March 13 based on a request by the defense, which had asked for the move based on concerns about the ability to strike an impartial jury.


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