Judge denies Auburn tree fire suspect's request to return to Germany

AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - The man accused of lighting one of the Toomer's Trees on fire, likely killing it, was back in court Wednesday for a bond hearing.

Judge Steven Speakman said in court the suspect, Jochen Wiest, had filed paperwork indicating he would plead guilty in the case, suggesting the Lee Co. District Attorney's office has reached a deal with the suspect.

District Court Judge Speakman says the plea will not happen Wednesday, but rather in Judge Jacob Walker's courtroom, as the case now falls under his Circuit Court jurisdiction.

Jochen Wiest is in court after a November motion was filed to determine if he could return to his native Germany until his case be heard by a Lee County grand jury.

Wiest is trying to get home to Germany and that won't happen at least this year. Wiest, working with a translator, was told by the judge that he would need to put up a bond to cover the costs of the tree, court costs, as well as an extradition waiver back to the United States if he did go to Germany.

Margaret Brown, Wiest's attorney, had a cashier's check for $23,157 ready in court, plus the $3,500 bond he's already posted. She says the cost of the tree has been determined to be $20,807.

Brown says they are ready to pay and will sign an extradition order, but Brown told the judge Germany may not honor extradition. Brown indicated Wiest would return to the United States if needed and is acting in good faith. Judge Speakman said since his return could not be guaranteed, he could not return his passport.

Judge Speakman indicated Wiest could be in court as early as January to plead guilty in the case, pay fines and get back to his family in Germany.

Wiest faces first-degree criminal mischief, a felony, desecration of a venerated object and public intoxication charges.

Police say he set fire to the draped toilet paper as Auburn fans rolled the trees celebrating a win over LSU earlier this year.  Auburn University estimates damages to be at least $15,000.

The fire sparked outrage as Auburn fans had just begun rolling the new oaks after the previous trees were intentionally poisoned and had to be removed.

Wiest was in the United States on a work visa. He worked at Baxter Manufacturing Plant in Opelika.

Wiest was identified as the person who, officials say, set fire to the draped toilet paper at one of the newly-planted oak trees at Auburn's famed Toomer's Corner after the LSU game on Sept. 25.

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