Palin hacker found guilty on two counts | SC Media
Breach, Privacy

Palin hacker found guilty on two counts

April 30, 2010

The 22-year-old man accused of hacking into the Yahoo email account of Sarah Palin while she was the Republican candidate for vice president was found guilty of two of four counts: unlawful computer access and obstruction of justice, according to a report in the Knoxville News Sentinel. He was acquitted of the charge of wire fraud and a mistrial was declared on count one, identity theft.

David Kernell was a 20-year-old economics student at the University of Tennessee when he hacked his way past security questions to access Palin's personal email account in 2008. Kernell gained access by providing Palin's birth date and ZIP code to Yahoo's password retrieval system. At that time, she was the governor of Alaska and recently recruited as running mate in the presidential bid of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The government will decide next week whether to retry the case, with sentencing to follow after that decision is made, according to Harlow Sumerford, a news reporter with WATE 6, reporting from the scene. Kernell and his attorney had no comment for the press as they left the courtroom, he added.

A jury in Knoxville, Tenn. comprised of six men and six women, began hearing testimony last week in the case, including from Palin and her daughter Bristol, who both testified that the event disrupted their lives.

"It caused a huge disruption in the campaign," Palin told jurors during her 45 minutes of testimony last Friday,  according to the Sentinel.

The jury began its deliberations on Tuesday morning after receiving instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Phillips and continued for more than five hours before concluding for the day. The jurors continued discussion all day Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday afternoon, the jurors were unanimous on their decision in three of the four charges, but were deadlocked on count one, the charge of identity theft.

The jurors' discussion seemed to be heating up on Thursday. In a note to the judge, the jurors said: "Some of us feel not all jurors are following the jury instruction," according to the Sentinel.

When they could not come to a verdict on the charge of identity theft, the judge refused to accept a partial verdict and sent them back into the jury room to reach a decision on count one.

After another full day of deliberation on Friday, the jury acquitted Kernell of count two, wire fraud, but it remained deadlocked on count one, felony identity theft.

Kernell was charged with four felonies – felony identity theft, wire fraud, accessing Palin's email account without authorization and obstructing an FBI investigation.

Charges, possible sentence

Count one: identity theft
Maximum five years in prison
$250,000 fine
Three years supervised release

Count two: wire fraud
Maximum 20 years in prison
$250,000 fine
Five years supervised release

Count three: unlawful computer access
Maximum five years in prison
$250,000 fine
Three years supervised release
Lesser included misdemeanor offense on count three carries a maximum of one year in prison

Count four: obstruction of justice
Maximum 20 years in prison
$250,000 fine
Five years supervised release

Wade Davies, Kernell's attorney, argued that what Davies did was closer to a prank than a crime, according to the Sentinel. He added that Kernell didn't use the information he accessed or harass Palin's family.

But, the Sentinel reported that prosecution lawyer Thomas Van Flein told the jury the hacking was "disruptive to [Palin's] ability to communicate with her staff."

Answering reporters' questions following her testimony last Friday, Palin said, "It's not right. It's not legal. It's not fair. It's not decent," according to the Sentinel.

Davies argued that federal authorities trumped up charges because the high-profile Palin is the alleged victim. He urged jurors to penalize Kernell only for what he claimed was the more appropriate conviction: misdemeanor unauthorized computer access.

Kernell was present in court throughout the proceedings, but did not testify. He is the son of Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell of Memphis, who has served in the state's House of Representatives for more than three decades.

According to WATE 6's Sumerford, U.S. attorneys will determine by next Friday whether to retry Kernell on the charge of identity theft. If so, Palin might need to return to Knoxville.

What should the sentence be for David Kernell? You can cast your opinion in the latest SC Magazine Poll in the middle column of our home page.

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