"Student Fights Felony in Web Threat"


Seattle Times
Ian Ith, Seattle Times Eastside Bureau


King County prosecutors are overreacting by leveling a felony charge at an Arizona college student for Internet threats that spurred a one-day closure of Eastlake High School in Sammamish, the man's lawyer said yesterday.

"Obviously, he shouldn't have done this," Seattle attorney Richard Hansen said. "But my hope is that cooler heads will prevail and that the charge will be dismissed after the dust settles. He's a responsible young man, and a felony charge is a horrible stigma to be facing."

Arizona State University student Michael Thomas flew to Seattle yesterday to plead not guilty in King County Superior Court to one count of felony harassment. He remained free pending a trial. A date was to be set at his next court appearance in two weeks.

Prosecutors say Thomas, 18, threatened Eastlake students in an unofficial online chat room. An Eastlake teacher recorded the threats, and officials closed the school Nov. 1.

That same morning, Thomas, who is originally from Massachusetts and never had been to Washington state before yesterday, called police to apologize and explain that he had been joking. He said a dormitory pal, an Eastlake alumni, showed him the unsanctioned school Web site.

"I realize my comments have caused great and needless fear and stress in the students and parents of Eastlake High School," Thomas wrote in a statement to police.

"I saw I made a terrible mistake and have done everything in my power to rectify the situation as soon as possible. I would like to deeply apologize to everyone in the community for my actions."

But King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng called a news conference last week to say that even jokes wouldn't be tolerated.

Maleng said he would seek community service for Thomas if he pleaded guilty.

Yesterday, though, Hansen said Thomas' words say enough.

"He doesn't deserve to be charged with a felony, in light of all the corrective actions he took," Hansen said. "It's an overreaction and an understandable one in the aftermath of the Columbine (High School in Colorado) tragedy. But the message has certainly gone out without making a felon out of a kid."

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