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Psychiatric test for poisoning suspect

A tree on the Auburn campus shows the damaging effects.
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AUBURN, Ala. (AP)

A University of Alabama fan accused of poisoning Auburn University's landmark oak trees in a fit of football rivalry voluntarily surrendered for psychiatric testing at a state mental facility Thursday, likely delaying his trial yet again.

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Prosecutors had asked the judge to revoke Harvey Updyke's bond following his arrest earlier this month during a dispute at a store in Hammond, La., and a judge issued an arrest warrant Wednesday.

But with a Hammond police officer in court ready to testify about what happened in a confrontation at a home improvement store, Updyke's lawyers skipped a formal bond hearing and instead said their client would turn himself in for testing at Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility, a state-run institution in Tuscaloosa.

Mental evaluations can take weeks, a court official said, but Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III didn't immediately rule on a defense request to delay the trial, which is set for a court session that begins Monday.

''It takes a while for Taylor Hardin to do their work,'' Walker said.

Updyke's previous lawyers left the case, forcing the judge recently to appoint two new attorneys who said they had yet to have time to go through the two boxes full of court documents they received when they took on the case.

One of the lawyers, Margaret Brown, told Walker it would be difficult to be in court as planned.

''We're not ready for trial,'' she said.

Updyke, 63, is charged with poisoning the Toomer's Corner oak trees with a powerful herbicide during Auburn's national championship run in the 2010 football season, which included a 28-27 win over Alabama. Auburn football fans traditionally roll the trees with toilet paper after a victory.

Updyke has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object. In court, he wore a tie with alternating stripes of Alabama's crimson color and a houndstooth pattern popular among Crimson Tide fans.

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In Louisiana, Updyke was arrested earlier this month on a terrorizing charge after allegedly making a threatening comment when workers at a Lowe's store refused to give him the amount of money he wanted when returning a lawn mower. He is free on bond in that case, and Alabama prosecutors asked the judge to revoke his bond in the tree-poisoning case because of the arrest.

Walker attempted to hold Updyke's trial in the tree case in June, but he ended it during jury selection after Auburn's student newspaper quoted Updyke as telling a reporter that he admitted poisoning the oaks. Updyke's previous lawyers denied he had made the remark.

The defense is asking Walker to move the eventual trial outside of Auburn because of excessive publicity.

Once full and lush, the oak trees on the edge of the Auburn campus are now gnarly and brown. Officials pruned dying branches before football season because of safety concerns, but fans are still allowed to drape toilet paper on the remaining wood after victories.

Tagged: Alabama, Auburn

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