Cotton ball suspects charged with littering

Cotton Balls in front of the Black Cultural Center

There had been talk of hate crime charges, but Monday prosecutors charged two University of Missouri students with littering for spreading cotton balls on campus.

Freshman Sean Fitzgerald, 19, and Senior Zachary Tucker, 21, were originally arrested for tampering, which could have carried a hate crime penalty, but they were formally charged with littering, a Class A misdemeanor.

The incident in February drew outrage from the University and especially the black community because the cotton balls were spread in front of the campus' black history center.

But the prosecutor said that the tougher charge was never really an option because they couldn't prove a "substantial inconvenience" to any victims.

In a written apology, Fitzgerald and Tucker said the cotton ball indecent was just part of a night of fun.

Both students are members of MU TMs Naval ROTC program and have been temporarily suspended from school.

Fitzgerald and Tucker plead not guilty today, but defense attorneys and the prosecutor said the two will change their pleas to guilty during a plea on April 29.

Neither side would discuss the details of the plea agreement.

MU released a statement regarding the formal charges files against the two students:

"The University of Missouri police department made arrests in the incident involving the Black Culture Center on Feb. 26 and referred the two individuals to the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney TMs office. It is the prosecuting attorney TMs responsibility to determine charges. We understand charges have been filed against the two individuals. The case will now move through the legal process; the university is not involved in that process."