Since the bizarre news broke about the Toomer’s Corner Oaks being poisoned at Auburn University, I’ve been inundated with conspiracy theorists who believe that the school leaked the news Wednesday in an attempt to deflect media coverage from a story I broke here earlier the same day.
(AU released news before cops had chance to nab already-located suspect)
My first reaction to the suggestion, like anyone in their right mind who isn’t a fan of certain Red Elephant, was that there’s no way Auburn would do such a thing.
I immediately set out to establish facts of the situation that would disprove such a theory.
Two days and thousands of media reports later, I still haven’t found a timeline provided by Auburn or law enforcement that definitively rules out that Auburn may have leaked the story to deflect same-day coverage of the NCAA’s Louisiana-based investigation of the Auburn football program.
Wednesday at 1:30pm ET I was first to confirm that NCAA investigators had interviewed four individuals about Auburn football recruiting tactics. Later that afternoon, Auburn University posted this message that, in part, read:
Auburn University today confirmed that an herbicide commonly used to kill trees was deliberately applied in lethal amounts to the soil around the Toomer’s Corner live oaks on campus, and there is little chance to save the trees.
The City of Auburn Police Division is investigating the situation, and the application of this herbicide, known as Spike 80DF, or tebuthiuron, is also governed by state agricultural laws and the Environmental Protection Agency..
So why did Auburn choose to release the news at that time? Especially since we now know that a full-blown investigation by Auburn Police to find Harvey Updyke located the suspect “more than a week” before the Auburn press release. From the BIRMINGHAM NEWS:
Auburn Police tracked down Updyke more than a week ago, according to court documents.
Col. Melvin Owens, executive director of security and public safety at Auburn University, stated that a professor of turfgrass management received a suspicious telephone voice message on Feb. 7.
The caller claimed to have knowledge of the poisoning of the trees, according to the affidavit.
The voice on the message was consistent with the voice that had called a radio talk show on Jan. 28, according to the affidavit. The talk show has been identified at the Paul Finebaum radio talk show.
Auburn Police obtained a search warrant for telephone records involving the suspicious call and made a “covert” telephone call to the telephone number on the records they obtained, according to the search warrant. The voice of the subject who answered the telephone “was consistent with the voices heard on the telephone calls to the radio show and to Auburn University,” according to the affidavit.
Auburn Police developed Updyke as a suspect, according to the affidavit. “Mr. Updyke provides a rights-advised oral statement admitting to making the telephone call to the radio show admitting to poisoning the trees and to the professor at Auburn University claiming knowledge of the poisoning, but he later denied to police actually poisoning the trees.”
Why would Auburn Police devote significant resources to such a manhunt if it hadn’t yet been determined that the Toomer’s Oaks had been poisoned?
Or perhaps the investigation by Auburn Police was indeed prompted by lab results that indicated the Toomer’s Oaks were poisoned. But if that’s the case, and Auburn Police had found Updyke, why was the news of the Oaks released by Auburn before Updyke was apprehended?
Why wouldn’t Auburn University wait for Auburn Police to arrest suspect Updyke before breaking the bad news?
All of this points to exactly when Auburn University knew the Oaks had been poisoned and were in grave condition. And that’s where the information provided by the school gets very fuzzy.
The soil sample testing was actually done at Mississippi State.
From the Auburn website on Wednesday:
As a precaution, soil samples were taken the next day and sent to the Alabama State Pesticide Residue Laboratory on campus for analysis. Due to a small fire that occurred in the Alabama lab in December, the tests were sent to the lab at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., to expedite results.
The Auburn statements on its website contain no dates or timelines as to when the testing took place and/or when the school knew the results.
Though a Mississippi State school press release gives a clue: Read more…