It seemed to be a coup for a small-town news reporter, the sort of providential scoop that allows a journalist to make his bones in the cutthroat media world.
Approaching Harvey Updyke after a round of jury selection in his trial for allegedly poisoning the longsuffering Toomer’s trees, Auburn Plainsman community editor Andrew Yawn stated that Updyke was more than forthcoming.
“Did I do it? Yes,” Updyke is quoted as having said.
Auburn faithful were jubilant; the smoking gun was plainly still in the shooter’s hand. Meanwhile, Crimson Tide fans – though no supporters of Updyke – were befuddled that he would continue to brag about his misdeed. It seemed further proof of his misplaced martyr complex, and the delusion that he would be embraced by the Alabama faithful for crowing about such a ludicrous act of supposed gamesmanship.
Then came the news that Judge Jacob Walker had ruled that the jury pool was so tainted it would be impossible for Updyke to receive a fair trial. Walker stated that his decision to postpone the trial had come in part due to the Plainsman story, of which as many as 10 potential jurors had heard.
For Auburn fans celebrating the game-winning touchdown, it was like realizing the referee had thrown a flag on the play.
A Lee County circuit court judge. An Opelika courtroom. A jury composed of citizens living in the shade of the venerated live oaks. It was to have been a case of the hen being tried in a courtroom full of foxes. Yet somehow, the accusers had been outfoxed.
Walker said finding a jury pool in Alabama that had not been tainted by the coverage of the case would be difficult, if not impossible. Observers of the case say a mistrial is a possibility.
Now those watching the developments – whether fan, foe or indifferent – must wonder if Updyke’s continual confessions and public declarations have been the ravings of a deranged fan, or the strategy of a consummate prankster.