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Jury selection begins in Auburn tree poison trial

Harvey Updyke arrives with his wife Elva at

Harvey Updyke arrives with his wife Elva at the Lee County Justice Center in Auburn, Ala. (June 19, 2012) Credit: AP

OPELIKA, Ala. -- Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of an Alabama fan accused of poisoning two oak trees at Auburn University's famed Toomer's Corner, and lawyers asked potential jurors about their ties to Auburn.

Eighty-five prospective jurors filled Judge Jacob Walker's courtroom a few miles from Auburn's campus.

Among the questions submitted by defendant Harvey Updyke's attorneys: whether potential jurors would "make a decision based upon the defendant being a University of Alabama sports fan." None of the jurors questioned Tuesday morning said they would.

When the judge asked if they had read or seen reports about the case, all but one of the potential jurors signaled yes. Seven of them indicated they worked for Auburn University and three said their spouses did.

Defense attorney Everett Wess said selection might continue until late in the week.

Updyke is accused of poisoning the trees after Auburn beat the Crimson Tide during the Tigers' 2010 national title season. The 63-year-old has pleaded not guilty on charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object.

Forty-one of the possible jurors said they had visited or seen the trees since the poisoning and 39 said they had taken part in the "rolling of the oaks" -- draping them in toilet paper -- a longtime tradition for Auburn fans celebrating victories.

Updyke, who has worn crimson ties to previous appearances, was dressed in a neutral gray shirt and tie. He arrived at the courthouse with his wife Elva.

Attorneys began questioning individual jurors after about two hours, and broke for lunch after getting through five.

New York Sports