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Student gets probation for threatening e-mails

June 19, 2001

Iowa City, Ia. - A former University of Iowa dental student will not spend time behind bars for making threats that targeted fellow minority students more than a year ago.

A tearful Tarsha Claiborne, 24, was put on probation for four years after pleading guilty Monday in Johnson County District Court of sending an e-mail bomb threat in April 2000 that was aimed at minority students.

As part of her sentence, Claiborne must pay the U of I $17,000 and receive mental-health counseling. She also pleaded guilty of marijuana possession and was given credit for time spent in jail after her arrest. She was fined $500, and her driver's license was revoked for six months on the drug charge.

Claiborne faced more than five years in prison.

"I would like to express my sincere apologies," she said. "I would like to apologize to the University of Iowa and the community and to thank my mother and family."

Prosecutors said that in addition to the e-mailed threats - one read: "Students should be afraid not only for their careers, but their lives" - Claiborne left a pile of red-dyed noodles on the doorstep of an African-American student, with a note referring to them as a "dead black man's brains." Claiborne, a native of Baton Rouge, La., was also charged with setting fire to a coat in a U of I dental lab on April 6, 2000.

Authorities had traced the threatening e-mails to a computer in a College of Medicine complex near the dental school. A surveillance camera captured an image of Claiborne entering and leaving the room, authorities said.

According to court records, Claiborne was linked to the lab fire by an e-mail sent shortly after the incident that asked, "Are you going to take us seriously now?"

Claiborne, at the time one of 13 black students at the dental college, spent two weeks in a psychiatric unit at University Hospitals after her arrest.

Her attorney, Leon Spies, blamed her actions on stress caused by a competitive academic environment.

Claiborne graduated in 1998 from Xavier University of Louisiana with a degree in pre-medicine. U of I officials said there was no evidence that she was having trouble academically or had been under any undue stress since coming to Iowa City.

Johnson County Attorney J. Patrick White said the university's cost to investigate and respond to the threats was estimated at $50,000.

Claiborne has enrolled in school in Louisiana. She said after Monday's court hearing the first thing she planned to do was head back home and "eat some crawfish."

Claiborne said the ordeal has made her stronger, and now "I do know who my real friends are."

By TAMMARA MEESTER, Copyright © 2001, The Des Moines Register


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