Harvey Updyke is no Tommy Lewis, but he deserves a fair trial.
In an interview a few months back on Paul Finebaum's radio talk show Updyke compared himself to Lewis, the Crimson Tide player who came off the bench in the 1954 Cotton Bowl and tackled a Rice University runner destined for the end zone. That deserved a penalty and so do Updyke's actions, but Updyke's penalty should be decided outside of Lee County.
Updyke first called the Finebaum show last year to report poisoning the trees at Toomer's Corner where Auburn fans have gathered for decades and rolled them with toilet paper. .
About half the potential jurors called for the first attempt at a trial for Updyke several months ago admitted to having rolled the Toomer's Corner trees with tissue in the past.
Most said they wouldn't be biased against Updyke, a former police officer. But several in the potential jury pool said they were convinced of Updyke's guilt when asked by the judge.
"If I was in Auburn's place, I would be upset, too," Updyke has said. "I just want to tell them that really and truly I'm not a bad person. I'm an Alabama fan. Tommy Lewis in the '54 Cotton Bowl, he came off the bench and tackled the Rice player that was running down the field ahead of everybody else. They asked him later, 'Tommy why'd you do it?' He said, 'I just had too much 'Bama in me.' All my life, people have told me I cared too much about Alabama," Updyke continued.
"I know the Auburn folks don't feel sorry for me. I'm going to get what I deserve, and I guess I'll go from there," Updyke told Finebaum. Updyke said he doesn't blame Auburn fans for being mad at him, but ended his second appearance on the Finebaum show just like he did the first, by proclaiming "Roll Damn Tide." He then expressed remorse for what he had done--but to Alabama fans, not Auburn.
"I have hurt the University of Alabama, I know I have," he said. "And that's the last thing I wanted to do. It started out as a prank and they're talking about putting me in prison." He said he "would probably never be allowed to attend another Alabama game."
And he may be right about that if the officials at UA have their way. They have banned Updyke from attending any sports event at the school, which sure as heck sounds like a "selective" discrimination lawsuit to me. Hey, they never banned Shorty Price or the guys with the toilet paper rolls.
Updyke told Finebaum he didn't want this incident to be his legacy. "I don't want to go to my grave as "Harvey the tree poisoner."' I think in my life I've done a lot of good things, but that wasn't one of them."
Law enforcement authorities have said that Updyke has admitted to making the previous call to Finebaum's show, but he denied that he poisoned the trees. The oaks stand.
The Updyke trial for poisoning the oak trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner, which for years have been decked with toilet paper following Tiger victories, will resume somewhere in Alabama in a few days. It should not be held in Lee County.
Before I finish let me disclose that, although not Auburn graduates, Nancy, my wife, and I have paid Auburn University a lot of money for the education of two of our children. We also have many relatives who have attended or graduated from Auburn.
But more important to me, and it should be for all of us, is that the perception of justice be a reality in all trials. Even though I suspect Updyke might get a fairer trial in Lee County than Tuscaloosa, this proceeding should be moved from Lee County.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org