By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A Harvard University student who told investigators he had sent hoax e-mails claiming there were bombs planted around the school this week to get out of taking a final exam appeared in court on Wednesday to face criminal charges.
The student, 20-year-old Eldo Kim, was brought handcuffed into U.S. District Court in Boston wearing Harvard sweatpants and a gray T-shirt.
In a brief appearance, Kim spoke only to confirm to Magistrate Judge Judith Dein that he understood he has a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin told the judge that prosecutors and Kim's legal representatives had begun "discussing alternatives to detention" for the student prior to the hearing.
Dein called a temporary halt to the proceedings to allow those talks to develop and instructed prosecutors and defense attorneys to return to her courtroom at 2:30 ET (1930 GMT).
Harvard officials on Monday evacuated four buildings, including classroom facilities and a dorm, at the heart of the Ivy League school's centuries-old campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after receiving threatening e-mails claiming that "shrapnel bombs" had been placed in two of them.
The threat came about eight months after two homemade pressure-cooker bombs filled with nails and ball bearings blew up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264. It drew a heavy response from local, state and federal law enforcement agents.
An agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation tracked Kim down on Monday night at his Harvard campus dorm, where the student confessed to sending the hoax e-mails to university police, several administrators and the student newspaper.
The message said bombs had been placed in two of four named buildings and added "guess correctly ... be quick for they will go off soon."
"Kim stated that he was in Emerson Hall at 9:00 a.m. when the fire alarm sounded and the building was evacuated," said an affidavit by the FBI agent. "According to Kim, upon hearing the alarm, he knew that his plan had worked."
Kim faces one count of making a hoax threat. He could face a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine, if convicted.
He is a sophomore, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper reported. Court papers showed his nationality as being both U.S. and Korean.
An attorney representing Kim, Allison Burr, declined any comment to reporters after the proceeding.
One observer said it was unusual to see federal, rather than state or local, prosecutors take on a hoax case at a university, but that their involvement likely reflected the costs and high visibility of the massive law-enforcement response, as well as post-9/11 and post-marathon jitters.
"We see the strong arm of the federal government being brought to bear in the prosecutorial process of this kid, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with that law enforcement response," said Tom Nolan, chairman of the criminal justice department at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and a former Boston Police official.
"There's no way that a massive police response and the shutdown of several buildings at Harvard University is going to result in anything less than a federal prosecution," Nolan said.
Late last month, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, placed its campus on lockdown for almost a day after an anonymous caller warned officials that his roommate was headed to the Ivy League school and planning to shoot people. No gunman was found, and police now regard the incident as a hoax.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson)