Harvey Updyke was paid in desserts to sign autographs while in jail for poisoning Auburn trees

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Harvey Updyke walks into court as jury selection continues in his trial Wednesday, June 20, 2012, at the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika, Ala. Updyke, an Alabama fan, is accused of poisoning the two famous oak trees at Auburn’s Toomers Corner. Defense attorneys for Updyke have asked the judge to move the trial to a different location. Judge Jacob Walker said Thursday that he would set a hearing date to consider the request. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Vasha Hunt, Pool)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — At one point, Harvey Updyke was among the most notorious Crimson Tide fans in Alabama after he poisoned the Toomer’s Oaks in Auburn following the Tide’s loss to Auburn in 2010 during the Iron Bowl.

However, while incarcerated in the Lee County Detention Center for destroying the trees, Updyke was a celebrity, according to ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum.

In his 2014 memoir, “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference,” Finebaum recounted going to the Lee County jail on June 9, 2013 to visit Updyke, who died Thursday night at the age of 71. The visit was the day before Updyke was set to be released from his 76-day sentence for criminal destruction of an agricultural facility.

In fact, it was on Finebaum’s radio show where the fervent Alabama fan first claimed to have poisoned the trees. The trees eventually died and were cut down, making room for new trees at the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue.

“Our meeting was weeks in the making,” Finebaum wrote in the book. “Sheriff Jay Jones approved the meeting under the condition that it wasn’t media-related. Since I was a man without a radio program or employer (it wouldn’t be until that May that I joined ESPN, I was qualified.”

Finebaum said Updyke had spent his sentence in the “safe” part of the jail, but still got into some fights with other inmates.

However, Finebaum said those who hated Updyke in jail were definitely in the minority.

“He might have been targeted by a few prisoners, presumably Auburn fans or arborists, but Harvey said he was a celebrity to most of the other inmates,” Finebaum wrote.

In the book, Finebaum wrote how Updyke would often get asked to sign autographs by the other inmates and would be paid in Little Debbie Honey Buns.

Finebaum said that despite Updyke maintaining he had mellowed while in jail, he wasn’t entirely convinced of this change of heart.

“I wanted to believe him, but I’m not sure I did,” Finebaum said. “Something about the ‘Roll Damn Tide’ tattoo on his biceps said otherwise. He was still reveling in his fifteen minutes of fame. It was weird, pathetic, but mostly it was sad.”

On Friday, Finebaum went on ESPN’s “Get Up” to talk about Updyke, whom host Mike Greenberg said put Finebaum and his show on the map.

“Well, naturally, I mean, you’re sad but I mean this was someone, the likes of which I’ve never encountered,” Finebaum said “Harvey Updyke’s dog was named Nick Saban. His oldest son was named Bear, his second daughter was named Crimson Tide – Tyde. He wanted to name his third child, Allie, Ally Bama, but his wife finally said that was enough. He was consumed with Alabama.”


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