Judge finds probable cause in alleged Auburn oak burner case

By: Dorothy Sherman

LEE COUNTY, AL – The case against alleged Auburn oak burner Jochen Wiest moves forward in court.

In a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Lee County Judge Steven Speakman found probable cause.

Wiest is charged with criminal mischief, 1st degree, desecration of a venerable object and public intoxication.

Wiest was not in court, but his attorney Margaret Brown was at the hearing.

During the hearing an Auburn police investigator took on the stand.

The investigator discussed several witness statements and surveillance video of the night on Sept. 25, 2016 when Wiest allegedly set fire to the Auburn oak tree on Magnolia Avenue.

The tree then was covered in toilet paper from an Auburn University tradition to roll the two Auburn oak trees to celebrate a football win.

The Auburn Tigers had beat LSU.

The investigator said Wiest denied responsibility to police.

He also said a letter stated costs to replace the tree would be $15,000 to $20,000.

The estimate came from a horticulture expert.

WLTZ spoke to that expert on the health of the tree Wednesday.

"The tree is much worse off than .. we had thought right after the fire and we’re monitoring it … we’ve done that twice in the last three weeks and we’ll continue to do that," Auburn University horticulture professor Dr. Gary Keever said.

The positive, Dr. Keever said, there does appear to be new, green foliage, but with the seasons changing those may not survive.

The future of the tree is still unknown.

"In my professional opinion at this time .. there’s so much dead wood in the tree that unless the tree really puts on a lot of vigorous new growth in the spring then …  it may not warrant staying in this location," Dr. Keever said.

As for the hearing, Brown declined to comment on the case.

Wiest was not in court, because he waived his appearance and Brown said she rarely makes her clients attend these hearings if they don’t have to.

The case moves to a Lee County Grand Jury.

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