A 22-year-old former University of Tennessee-Knoxville student, accused of breaking into the Yahoo! email account of Sarah Palin as she campaigned for vice president in 2008, goes before a judge in Tennessee this week.
David Kernell, 20-years-old and an economics major at the time and formerly a state championship chess player, stands charged with gaining access to the vice presidential candidate’s Yahoo! email account by figuring out a series of personal security questions. He was able to perform this by using simple Google searches to look up Palin’s birthday, ZIP code and where she met her husband, Todd. He then allegedly reset her account password to “popcorn,” and then created screen shots and posted the contents online using the nickname “rubico.”
While Wade Davies, the attorney for Kernell, in proceedings on Tuesday called the hack a “college prank,” federal prosecutor Mark Krotoski countered that, “The evidence will show the defendant hoped to derail the [Republican 2008 presidential] campaign.”
At the time, the McCain campaign described the incident as a “shocking invasion of the governor’s privacy and a violation of law.” In her book, Going Rogue, Palin recalled the breach as “the most disruptive and discouraging” incident in the campaign and wrote that it “created paralysis” in her state office.
David Omiecinski, Kernell’s former roommate, testified on Tuesday that Kernell had no intention to hurt the former Alaska governor, but ”He definitely talked about how he didn’t believe in what she wanted to do.”
Kernell, who has been free on bond since pleading not guilty after the indictment was unsealed in October 2008, faces four felony charges — identity theft, wire fraud, intentionally accessing Palin’s e-mail account without authorization and interfering with an FBI investigation — that could put him behind bars for 50 years.
The trial, which may last up to 10 days, is expected to draw a good deal of attention as Kernell’s father, Mike Kernell, has served in the Tennessee House as Democratic Representative since 1974. Further, Sarah Palin has been subpoenaed by prosecutors and is likely to testify. Palin’s husband, Todd, and daughter, Bristol, are also potential witnesses.
According to a story on Wednesday’s knownews.com, the website of The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Bristol Palin was in the federal courthouse and expected to testify Wednesday afternoon. Earlier on Wednesday, testimony was heard from a Yahoo employee who recounted the second-by-second account activity of firstname.lastname@example.org just after midnight on September 16, 2008. That private email account was used by Governor Palin when she was campaigning for vice president.
When she arrives in Knoxville, say local reports, Palin will be welcomed by a heavily Republican East Tennessee base that was highly supportive of her campaign and where she remains “very well thought of.”
Kernell’s father, who said he will attend sessions to support his son, has stated that his son will be back in school this summer. Kernell’s mother, Lillian Landrigan, is also expected to be there. She is an Army dentist, a veteran of Iraq who is now stationed in Honolulu.
A comment from Kernell’s attorney Wade Davies was not immediately available.