Friday July 31, 2015
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In Opelika, Alabama, Harvey Updyke, who had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, has pleaded guilty to pouring herbicide on some oak trees where Auburn University football fans gather to celebrate victories.
The trees died.
Six months in jail, a $1000 fine, and five years on supervised probation, which includes a 7 p.m. curfew and prohibits Updyke from going onto Auburn's campus or attending any college sporting event. The prosecutor has made the vindictive comment that a second trial for damages will soon take place, and whatever the trees may have been worth, the man will pay double damages for their repair.
There is, however, a fly in the ointment--two of them in fact. The man's defense was to have been that he was mentally incompetent at the time he killed the trees. By accepting his guilty plea without the knowledge of his lawyers the prosecutor may have made a mess of his case.
On top of that, there is the question of cruel and unusual punishment. A 7 pm curfew? He can't attend a college sporting event? Was the judge kidding? I can see that one ending up in the Supreme Court. What can that judge have been thinking?
His lawyers agree that Updyke is mentally competent to stand trial now, but they planned to use an insanity defense because his mental health at the time he made several statements about having done the deed, and at the time of the poisoning is a different matter.
How sane do you think a 64 year old retired Texas state trooper and University of Alabama fan, was at the time he decided to "kill" three trees. Or at the time he called a radio station, identified himself with his middle name, claimed credit for what had happened, and yelled, "Roll Damn Tide!" (That's a reference to the Crimson Tide of Alabama University.) Or when he called an Auburn professor and said he had knowledge of who had done the "poisonings?"
I wonder how all this will work out?
Okay, I'll ask the questions straight out:
If an accused has lawyers and they plead mental incompetence, and the accused, on his own, decides to plead guilty (perhaps with some prodding by the prosecution?), should a judge allow a trial to happen without first having a neutral party or parties ascertain beyond doubt that the accused is both mentally stable and able to make such a decision?
Comments made by the prosecutor make it perfectly clear that he is not the neutral person he is supposed to be, and also that he was playing to an audience. How then, can there be a fair trial?
because of the wave of prejudice that exists against the accused because of the sports nature of what happened can he get a fair trial where it happened?
Looking at the things the accused did (giving his name on the radio, contacting a professor at the school and telling him that he knew who did it), do YOU think he is mentally sound?
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