Attorney takes on Auburn trees case

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A Birmingham attorney plans to represent the man accused of poisoning the oak trees at Toomer's Corner on Auburn's campus after three predecessors withdrew.

Glennon Threatt Jr. said Wednesday he has spoken with Harvey Updyke Jr. "extensively about the case" by phone and filed a notice of appearance in Lee County Circuit Court.

Updyke had called a radio show Jan. 27 saying he poisoned the trees at Toomer's Corner, where Auburn fans have for years celebrated wins, after the Alabama-Auburn game.

"He gave what's tantamount to a confession on the radio, but he told the police that he didn't do it," Threatt said when asked if Updyke had discussed his guilt or innocence. "What I don't know enough about him yet to determine is whether or not he's the type of person, because of some emotional or psychological thing, that might take credit for something he didn't do. That would not be far-fetched, particularly for a guy that's got kids named Crimson Tyde and Bear Bryant."

Threatt, a Princeton graduate who attended the Howard University School of Law, said that Updyke is an unusual man, but seems to be "a very affable and friendly person."

"I enjoyed the times I've talked to him," Threatt said. "And I'm looking forward to representing him. I expect this case to be a lot of fun."

Court-appointed attorneys Jerry Hauser and Philip Tyler withdrew from the case citing conflicts of interest. Updyke then retained Jerry Blevins of Montgomery, who asked to be removed because of an "irreconcilable conflict" with the defendant.

Circuit Clerk Corinne Hurst said her office has received the faxed notice from Threatt, but it won't be official until received in person, electronically or through mail.

Threatt's office says it was sent Tuesday through first-class mail. Threatt, who represented former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford on bribery charges, said he's taken this case pro bono.

Updyke is free on bond on a first-degree criminal mischief charge. Threatt says a preliminary hearing will be held March 2.

In Auburn, workers finished replacing poisoned soil down to about 18 inches around the trees Wednesday morning in efforts to save the 130-year-old oaks, university spokesman Mike Clardy said.

Student leaders from both Auburn and Alabama also held a news conference at Toomer's Corner announcing that two sister trees will be planted on each campus as an expression of unity.

The tree poisoning has angered Auburn fans, prompting thousands of people to attend a "Toomer's Tree Hug" rally over the weekend. Threatt said Updyke's tires were slashed in a Walmart parking lot.

"Setting aside the sentimental value of the trees, it's not a very complex case," Threatt said. "It's a vandalism case at its core, and it's a situation he ... brought to the attention of authorities because of an interview on a radio show."