One of the two former University of Colorado students accused of sickening a professor and seven classmates with pot-infused brownies last December apologized for the prank Friday before pleading guilty to a single felony count and being sentenced to a 2-year deferred sentence.

Thomas Cunningham, 21, pleaded guilty to inducing consumption of a controlled substance by fraudulent means -- a Class 5 felony. In exchange for the plea, 17 other felonies in the case were dropped and Cunningham's guilty plea will be withdrawn and the charge dismissed if he completes the terms of his deferred sentence.

"This plea will be very favorable to you as long as you are able to comply and conduct yourself in a lawful fashion," Boulder District Chief Judge Roxanne Bailin said.

According to police and court records, Cunningham and Mary Essa, 19, brought marijuana-laced brownies to their history class as part of "bring food day," but did not tell anyone else in the class that the brownies were laced with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Later that day, assistant professor Celine Dauverd and several students complained of symptoms including dizziness, anxiety and loss of consciousness. Dauverd and two students were hospitalized after ingesting the brownies.

CU police said both Cunningham and Essa subsequently admitted the brownies contained marijuana.

'Seriousness of this case'

Both originally were charged with eight counts of second-degree assault and eight counts of inducing the consumption of a controlled substance as well as one count each of conspiracy to commit second-degree assault and conspiracy to induce consumption of a controlled substance.

Prosecutor J.P. Martin indicated Essa is working on a similar deal to the one Cunningham took.

Mary Essa
Mary Essa (Boulder County Sheriff's Office)

In addition to the deferred sentence, prosecutors determined the restitution amount to be $5,218, of which Cunningham will have to pay half. He also will be required to perform 120 hours of community service and write letters of apology to all the victims.

Each of the second-degree assault charges, Class 4 felonies, carried a possible prison sentence of 2 to 6 years, while the inducing consumption of a controlled substance charges and the conspiracy charges carried possible prison sentences of 1 to 3 years each.

"This plea was about balancing the seriousness of this case with the defendant's age and his lack of criminal history," Martin told the judge. "I think the deferred sentence is a reflection of balancing those two things."

'You made a giant mistake'

Phil Bienvenu, Cunningham's attorney, said his client never intended to hurt anyone, and that the case was a prank gone wrong.

"I'm completely satisfied at the time this happened Thomas had no idea that a bad reaction could result, though I know that seems naive," Bienvenu said. "There was no malice, though this was a prank there was no excuse for."

Martin said prosecutors believed neither student meant to hurt anyone, but noted some of the reactions that the students and Dauverd had to the brownies, adding that Dauverd almost drove home and picked up her kids before someone noticed she was impaired.

"That's a real risk that obviously never entered the defendant's mind. We know that or he never would have done it -- but that's no excuse," Martin said. "None of these folks knew what was happening."

Cunningham apologized for the incident, saying he thought the brownies would only give the victims a "euphoric feeling," similar to the one he has when he uses marijuana. Cunningham had a medical marijuana card to treat his back problems.

"I just apologize for the incident," Cunningham said. "I feel very sorry that people were injured as a result of this."

Bienvenu said his client has moved back to Texas with his parents and is working and hopes to eventually finish his degree at another school.

Bailin said she felt the sentence was appropriate and that she had confidence Cunningham would be able to complete the terms of the deferred sentence.

"I don't think you decided to becoming a criminal," she said. "I think you made a giant mistake that harmed other people."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329 or byarsm@dailycamera.com.