Harvey Updyke's trial is about to begin in a courtroom near Auburn University.
It's been about eighteen months since Updyke first gained prominence as Al from Dadeville, the Finebaum caller who poisoned a tree and set loose a maelstrom of media coverage and indignation. Since that time I've gotten to know Harvey pretty well. I've talked to him on the phone a great deal, I've met him at Alabama games, and -- while I'm no psychologist -- truth be told, Harvey is a pretty decent guy. Odds are if y'all met him at a family barbecue or got stuck in a line beside him at the DMV he'd strike you as pretty ordinary too. Like a lot of us he's a huge SEC fan. Unlike a lot of us he did something really, really dumb when his favorite team lost a football game -- he tried to kill trees at Auburn.
I understand that was an offensive and deranged act, but it wasn't the crime of the century that requires we lock him up and throw away the key.
I'd be shocked if Updyke is a threat at all to society now.
It was a dumb prank, an ill thought out strike at Auburn fans, the criminal mind equivalent of shattering a window or throwing a beer at a rival fan base.
As dumb decisions go, it isn't even close to the worst decision made on a football Saturday in the South.
While most SEC fans are well-behaved, we're talking about a hundred thousand or more people at these games. In the wake of a win or loss countless fans drink and drive and a great many get in fights. Both of these are infinitely more dangerous to the general welfare of other individuals than what Harvey Updyke did.
Yet how many people do you know who have gone to jail for more than a couple of days for a DUI after an SEC football game? For getting in a lame fight in the stands or at a tailgate?
And those are actually dangerous acts that could lead to serious harm or injury to people. Hell, I paid to get a tree removed from my yard last year. I was pissed at how expensive it was. We kill millions of trees every day in this world. Auburn fans even throw other dead trees -- toilet paper -- into those same trees to celebrate football wins.
The irony is staggering.
Plus, the trees aren't even dead. So right now he's guilty of attempting to kill a tree. Which is like if George Washington had left his hatchet buried in the cherry tree and not completed the apocryphal story.
Most people are going to read about the Harvey Updyke trial in newsprint that is placed on other dead trees. Now, I know, I know, all trees are not created equal. (There was never a Declaration of Tree Independence drafted). But are Alabama prosecutors really going to send Updyke to jail for multiple years for attacking trees?
Because that's what they're offering right now. I talked to Harvey recently and the reason he's not signing a plea agreeement is because the best offer he's received from prosecutors would require him to spend multiple years behind bars. Why are prosecutors throwing the proverbial book at Harvey? Because those prosecutors feel political pressure to be as difficult as possible with him.
But is that political pressure really still there at this point? Wouldn't most Auburn fans accept a punishment that better fits the crime?
Based on the responses I receive, I think the answer is yes.
Put simply, I don't even think Auburn fans believe Harvey Updyke should spend years in prison.
The only thing more insane than deciding to kill trees to make a rival fan base angry is sending someone to jail for multiple years for the crime.
Somewhere, somehow y'all down in Alabama need to make this right.
Or a judge needs to.
I've been thinking this for a long while, but it was reinforced for me when I woke up this morning to find this email from Alabama fan Greg:
"I'm sure you're aware that jury selection is underway here in Alabama for the Harvey Updyke trial. Like most normal Alabama fans (yes we do exist), I think that what Updyke did was horrible (we also don't think that "your gay" and don't have family portraits on the side of our cars). However, the thought of someone going to jail for poisoning trees is laughable. If he is found guilty, I think I have the perfect sentence for him - for the next 10 years, Updyke would have to sell programs at every Auburn home game, then pick up trash in the stadium after the game, all while wearing a Cam Newton jersey. That would be justice; what do you think?"
Greg's right, this crime calls out for a creative punishment solution.
Not for jail time.
So make him clean Toomer's Corner after every Auburn win.
Otherwise does the state of Alabama really want to put Harvey Updyke in jail at a cost of $40,000 or more a year? Not to mention a two week trial. Two weeks! Most murderers are convicted in less time.
This is madness. Harvey's life has been turned upside down, he's suffered the slings and arrows of fan indignation, he's a grandfather not a criminal mastermind.
We can find a better way for him to pay back Auburn fans.
Picking up stadium trash at every Auburn game for the next decade is a perfect sentence.
That's a punishment that fits the crime.
I'm sure y'all can come up with your own punishment ideas. Have at it. But end the farce of multiple years in jail for this. It's even more ludicrous than the number of claimed Alabama national titles.