Is Toomer’s Oak a Venerated “Object?”

After Auburn’s victory over the LSU fighting Tigers this weekend, we awoke Sunday morning to learn of yet another assassination attempt of a Toomer Oak. The crime was captured on surveillance video here and here.

According to  press reports the suspect, Jochen Wiest, has been charged with Public Intoxication (violation), Desecration of a Venerated Object (misdemeanor), and Criminal Mischief, 1st Degree (a felony).

“Auburn Police arrested Jochen Wiest, 29, of Auburn, Alabama, on a warrant charging him with desecration of a venerable object in connection with the fire set to one of the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner following Auburn’s win over LSU on Saturday.” (Mugshot via Auburn police) Source

I have not seen the actual criminal complaint and assume for purposes of this post that the desecration of a venerable object is the Toomer Oak. This brings me to my next point and perhaps the most interesting charge, assuming the tree is the  venerated object. Is this a proper charge? If Wiest is charged under the state criminal code, then the following statute is implicated:

Section 13A-11-12

Desecration of venerated objects.

(a) A person commits the crime of desecration of venerated objects if he intentionally:

(1) Desecrates any public monument or structure or place of worship or burial; or

(2) Desecrates in a public place the United States or Alabama flag or any other object of veneration by the public or a substantial segment thereof.

(b) Desecration of venerated objects is a Class A misdemeanor.

(Acts 1977, No. 607, p. 812, §5555.)

Under this definition, is a tree (a living thing) a venerated object? The statute defines a venerated object as:

  1. any public monument; or
  2. structure;of
  3. place or worship; or
  4. place of burial; or
  5. United States flag; or
  6. Alabama flag; or
  7. Any other object of veneration by the public or a substantial segment thereof.

Ultimately, the legal issue will be is a tree an object? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “OBJECT” as “a thing …that is not alive”….”someone”…. or “something”


I do not suggest that a crime was not committed, only that this particular charge may not be supported by the evidence or more succinctly by the plain meaning of the language of the statute. Again this is predicated upon the assumption that the criminal complaint lists the tree as a venerated object.

I wonder what would happen if someone set fire to this statue? You think it is a venerated object? Probably not in Lee County at least.

Venerable Object?

About the Author

Matt Green is a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted major felonies and violent crimes in the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office. He served as a municipal court judge in the City of Mobile and the City of Saraland. He is President of the Mobile Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies.



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