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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Palin hacker's verdict stands

A federal judge has shot down a former University of Tennessee student's bid to have tossed out convictions in the illegal access of Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account during the 2008 presidential election.

Although U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips' ruling, issued Thursday, paves the way for David C. Kernell to be sentenced next month, his will not be the final word on whether the convictions will stand. Defense attorney Wade Davies is appealing the then-20-year-old UT student's case to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Testimony at Kernell's trial earlier this year showed Kernell decided to try to access the Yahoo! account after reading in the New York Times that Palin, then Alaska governor and running mate to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, allegedly funneled gubernatorial business through the private account.

Kernell figured out the answer to Palin's password security account courtesy of Google and Wikipedia, changed the password, gained access to the account and boasted about it on a popular Internet discussion board.

Davies argued it was nothing more than a college prank by a rank computer amateur. Federal prosecutors assigned a more sinister motive, arguing Kernell, the son of long-time Memphis Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell, went searching for politically damaging information but came up empty-handed.

The feds slapped Kernell with four felony charges. At his trial in April jurors rejected a wire fraud charge outright, reduced a felony illegal e-mail access charge to a misdemeanor, deadlocked on an identity theft count and convicted Kernell of the felony charge of anticipatory obstruction of justice.

In a motion asking Phillips to toss out the two convictions, Davies argued the government came up short in proving Kernell's panic-stricken bid to clear his computer of evidence just hours after his e-mail foray was designed to throw the FBI off his trail. Davies argued the FBI hadn't even launched a probe yet.

When the agency contacted Kernell a few days later, Kernell unplugged his laptop and left it in the bedroom of a home he shared with fellow UT students.

Phillips disagreed, however.

"While (Kernell) did not destroy his computer, the evidence at trial showed that Defendant attempted to delete images that he downloaded from the account (including images of Governor Palin's family, and screen shots of the Account)," Phillips wrote. "Defendant also uninstalled his web browser and cleared the internet cache from the internet browser. (Continues here)

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