Obama Facebook threat gets Fla. student probation
MIAMI (AP) -- A 21-year-old college student and musician was sentenced Wednesday to three years' probation for posting threats against President Barack Obama on Facebook, a case a federal judge said underscored the perils of impulsive Internet use.
In addition to the probation, which includes four months' home confinement, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ordered Joaquin Serrapio to write a new Facebook post explaining how messages can have permanent dire consequences.
"I want people to speak out. I want us to have dialogue about issues. But I think some of our young people don't realize that cyberspace is forever," Cooke said after sentencing Serrapio. "When you write something in cyberspace, you are writing it for the world."
Cooke also ordered Serrapio to perform 250 hours of community service, preferably by advising students and other young people to be careful about what they post on Internet sites.
Serrapio, who called his actions "childishly stupid" in a letter of apology to Obama, said in court Wednesday that he thought his posts would only be seen by a small group of friends. Instead, shortly after writing them in February, he found Secret Service agents at his door.
Serrapio, a music business major at Miami-Dade College, also fronts a rock group called the "J. Valor Band." Using his "Jay Valor" Facebook page, prosecutors said Serrapio posted two threatening messages around the time Obama visited South Florida in February to deliver a speech at the University of Miami and attend two fundraisers.
The first one, posted Feb. 21, read "Who wants to help assassinate Obummer while hes at UM this week?"
On Feb. 23, the day of Obama's speech, Serrapio wrote this: "If anyone going to UM to see Obama today, get ur phones out and record. Cause at any moment im gonna put a bullet through his head and u don't wanna miss that? Youtube!"
The messages were quickly brought to the attention of the Secret Service, which determined that the president was never in any danger and that Serrapio had no weapons or other means to carry out such threats. Serrapio insisted he meant the president no harm, and prosecutors also recommended no jail time for him because of that.
"I never had any intentions, whatsoever, of doing any harm to you or anyone else," Serrapio wrote the president in a letter dated March 14. "I also apologize for any discomfort I may have put you and your family through."
Investigators found a cellphone with a text message from one of Serrapio's friends warning that he could get in trouble. Serrapio replied that he was "challenging" the Secret Service and also issued threats against any agents who came looking for him.
"I wanna kill at least two of them when they get here," Serrapio said in that text.
Ultimately, prosecutors decided to drop charges of making threats against the agents.
Serrapio's attorney, Alan Ross, said simply being a convicted felon is punishment enough for him.
"Carrying a criminal conviction for the rest of your life is like an anvil tied to your leg," Ross said. He added that Serrapio was not permitted to return to school while the case was pending and that he now hopes to finish and get his degree.