Accused Toomer's Oak tree-burner Jochen Wiest, a 29-year-old German national, has entered a guilty plea for the Sept. 25 burning of Auburn's historic landmark.
Wiest, who could be seen setting fire to the Magnolia Avenue Toomer's Oak after an Auburn win over LSU in September, agreed to plead guilty to first-degree criminal mischief, a felony, according to court documents.
With the help of an interpreter, Wiest and his attorney agreed to the plea in Lee County Circuity Court Thursday. The Lee County District Attorney's office also consented to the guilty plea.
In accordance with the plea, Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker sentenced Wiest to three years in prison, but that sentence was suspended to allow Wiest to serve five years of probation. Wiest will also pay more than $20,000 in restitution to the University.
Gary Keever, an Auburn horticulture professor, has said the $20,000 would be needed to replace the tree on Magnolia Avenue if it cannot be saved. Wiest will pay an additional $1,000 in fines and court costs.
But with the suspended sentence and probation, Walker also ordered Wiest's passport returned, which will allow the German citizen to return to his home country when he gets it back.
Lee County assistant district attorney Jessica Ventiere said comparing Wiest with Harvey Updyke, who was found guilty of poisoning the original Toomer's Oaks in 2011, is like comparing "apples and unicorns."
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"Updyke was a malicious damage to property," Ventiere said, according to AL.com. "Mr. Wiest was someone from Germany who didn't really understand what he was doing, he was very intoxicated at the time, damaged the property and has essentially from the beginning been trying to claim responsibility for this, making it known, entering his guilty plea, making it right and he's already (paying) full restitution."
Additional charges of desecrating a venerable object and public intoxication were dropped is part of the guilty plea.
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