Toomer’s Oaks poisoning trial delayed

Chris Chase

The trial of Harvey Updyke was delayed indefinitely on Thursday after a Lee County judge ruled that the 63-year-old Alabama fan accused of poisoning Auburn's famed Toomer's Oaks would have a difficult time getting a fair trial.

Judge Jacob A. Walker III said he issued his continuance due to the intense media coverage of the trial. One-third of the jury pool heard reports about the case since Tuesday despite explicit instructions to avoid all forms of news coverage. The saturation could make it difficult for an impartial jury to be selected.

The Opelika-Auburn News reports an article that appeared in the University of Auburn student newspaper claiming Updyke issued a courthouse confession played a role in the judge's decision. He reportedly admitted to the crime during a jury break. Prosecutors objected to the ruling, saying the report in the newspaper was factual.

Updyke's trial was in the fourth day of preliminary hearings when Walker issued his ruling. The original trial was scheduled for June 2011 but was delayed a number of times. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to charges of criminal mischief and desecration of a venerated object.