Students plead guilty to littering in cotton ball incident at Black Culture Center

Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 12:43 p.m. CDT; updated 10:26 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — Zachary Tucker and Sean Fitzgerald, the two MU students who were arrested on suspicion of scattering cotton balls in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center in February, pleaded guilty to littering Thursday morning.

They were sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation, 80 hours of community service and a 60-day suspension of their driver's licenses.

Tucker and Fitzgerald were arrested in March on suspicion of tampering in connection with the Feb. 26 incident. MU Police investigated the incident as a tampering case, which can be tried as a felony hate crime. Prosecutors filed misdemeanor littering charges.

Tucker spoke at the hearing Thursday, saying the incident and the uproar that followed was a learning experience.

"What hurts is seeing how this hurts other people," Tucker said.

Fitzgerald did not make a statement.

Two students who frequent the Black Culture Center spoke, as did MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton.

One of the students, Whitney Williams, said she was satisfied with the verdict despite feeling like the men had disrespected her "home."

"We're not out for vengeance or anything," she said. "The probation will be good for them."

Tucker's and Fitzgerald's driver's licenses were suspended because alcohol was involved. Their attorneys said Fitzgerald, a minor, had been drinking, though Tucker was sober.

Witnesses for the defense said that Tucker and Fitzgerald have apologized for their conduct and have gone through an extensive learning process.

"I would say the past two months has probably been the biggest learning curve of his entire life," said Linda Tucker, Zachary Tucker's mother.

If the men violate their probation, they could face up to a year in jail.

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