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Pop-up porn case closes with plea deal
Published: 2008-11-24

The case against Julie Amero, a Connecticut substitute teacher, closed with a whimper on Friday, when the 41-year-old woman agreed to a single charge of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

The plea agreement came more than four years after Amero was arrested on nine felony counts of risking injury to a minor, charges stemming from an incident when her classroom computer started displaying pornographic popups. In January 2007, Amero was found guilty on four of the charges, but the conviction caught the attention of the computer-security community. Following a report that found that prosecutors neglected to do adequate forensics on the computer, failing to find a common spyware application, the judge threw out the verdict.

Security professionals have strongly criticized the lack of knowledge of the expert witnesses used by the prosecution and the state attorney's long delay in deciding whether to retry the case.

"She acquiesced to the lesser misdemeanor charge, and while it may have been a bitter pill to swallow, she can at least can move on now without this sick cloud hanging over her head," Alexander Eckelberry, president of security firm Sunbelt Software, said in a statement posted on his blog. "It was less than two years ago that Julie was facing felony charges with a maximum of 40 years in prison."

The trial of Amero is not the first case to highlight the lack of technical knowledge of the prosecutors and the jury. In 2002, a 29-year-old network administrator was convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for sending 5,600 e-mail messages to customers of his former employer — the now-defunct e-mail provider Tornado Development — warning about a security hole in Tornado's service that left private messages vulnerable to unauthorized access. The prosecutors in the case argued, and the judge agreed, that McDanel was guilty of unauthorized access and abused Tornado's e-mail servers to send the messages. The prosecutors have since admitted their mistake and the case was overturned on appeal, but not before McDanel served 16 months in prison.

The prosecutors in the Amero case, however, continue to voice their belief that the charges were justified, according to the Hartford Courant.

"I have no regrets," New London County State's Attorney Michael Regan told Rick Green of the Courant last Friday. "Things took a course that was unplanned. Unfortunately the computer wasn't examined properly by the Norwich police."

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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