Harvey Updyke may have said too much to Auburn's student press.
A reporter from the Auburn Plainsman, Auburn University’s student-run newspaper, claims defendant Harvey Updyke, who is on trial for allegedly chemically poisoning revered oak trees on the school’s campus in Alabama, confessed his guilt while on the record during a courtroom lunch break.
“He had the ability to decline comment, to wait until the trial, to not say anything at all, and yet the same candor that broke his story on The Paul Finebaum Show in January 2011 revealed itself again on Tuesday, June 19,” wrote Andrew Yawn, reporter and community editor for the Plainsman. “‘Did I do it? Yes,’ Updyke said outside of an elevator on the second floor of the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika.”
Story continues after video from The Paul Fineman Show
USA Today reported that Updyke's attorney, Everett Wess, is now claiming Updyke has denied the conversation with Yawn ever occurred.
"There were other reporters around from ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, al.com, AP, major, major media outlets, and all of you were swarming in the courtroom. The lawyers were around the courtroom, and we think it's kind of odd that a student reporter from Auburn University was able to get this story when all these major media outlets have been here the entire time," Wess said, according to WLTZ and reported on by USA Today."No one saw this reporter getting this information from Updyke."
The Plainsman, however, guarded their reporter's honor.
“We stand behind Andrew Yawn’s reporting on the Updyke confession yesterday afternoon 100 percent. The information gathered was not prompted nor off the record. Andrew is one of The Plainsman's most respected journalists. The information published in the article was an accurate account of what transpired," wrote Plainsman Editor Robert E. Lee in an e-mail to the Huffington Post. "We are in no way making an assertion of Mr. Updyke's innocence or guilt. We simply reported what Mr. Updyke said to Yawn and we stand behind that. Mr. Updyke is due his day in court, just as every American citizen has the same right. We ask that the public reserve judgement until the judicial process is complete."
Yawn was served with a subpoena outside the courtroom today, according to USA Today. According to a separate e-mail from Lee, "The judge in the case issued a gag order on the trial, including Andrew. Meaning he can't talk to anyone about it until the case is over with."
"This morning, we will file a motion to change the venue. We think this is an example of how the publicity of the trial in this area may impact Harvey from having a fair trial," Wess told WLTZ, according to USA Today.
An ‘Editor’s note’ was attached to Yawn’s 626 word article, that reads: “Editor's note: The Plainsman community editor Andrew Yawn approached Harvey Updyke at the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika on Tuesday, June 19, following the first round of jury selection in regard to Updyke's apparent health issues. After Yawn identified himself as a Plainsman reporter, Updyke voluntarily spoke candidly about the charges he is facing.”
“We’re confident in anything Andrew reports,” said Lee in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. “There is no reason why he would make something up like that ... It was a good story.”
According to the Plainsman’s report, “Updyke has pleaded innocent to several counts of desecration of a venerated object, first-degree criminal mischief and unlawful damage or vandalism of a crop facility” and yesterday was the first day of his jury selection.
Wess told The Birmingham News last night that he was “a little taken aback,” and had not read the Plainsman article as of last night but would be speaking to Updyke about it.
The Birmingham News also reported that “Updyke's previous lawyer, Glennon Threatt, severed his relationship with Updyke after he called the Finebaum show against his advice.”
Yawn told the area paper that he sat down with Updyke during a courtroom lunch break to ask him about his health, taking notes on their conversation. Yawn also told the paper that “the apparent confession was unprompted.”
“Yawn said he faced a ‘moral quandary’ about using the quotes as he had originally planned to write a sympathetic feature about the Updykes [Harvey and his wife] later in the week,” stated The Birmingham News article. “But after talking to his journalism advisers he decided to post the story.”
According to Lee, this is Yawn’s first semester on staff at the paper, which prints weekly year-round, reducing circulation in the summer to around 5,200 from about 9,000 during the fall and spring.
Auburn University released a statement in April about the destruction to the Toomer’s Corner oak trees, stating, “In February 2011 the Auburn Family learned that the beloved oak trees at Toomer's Corner had been deliberately poisoned. Their chance of survival is very slim. Still, a task force made up of university horticulturists, landscapers, agronomists, engineers, chemists and others has undertaken a series of steps to give the trees a fighting chance …”