Justice for Julie Amero

Julie Amero, if you don’t know, is a former substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, who was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison after her classroom computer, infected with malware, started uncontrollably displaying pornographic pop-ups that were visible to the junior high school students she was teaching that day. As Lindsay Beyerstein wrote back in January,

On Jan. 5, 2007, a Norwich jury found Amero guilty of four felony counts of “injury or risk of injury to, or impairing morals of, children.” Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and while it is unlikely that Amero will receive the maximum penalty, incarceration remains a very real possibility. Even if Amero avoids jail, she will be stripped of her teaching credentials unless the convictions are reversed.

News of the guilty verdict sparked widespread outrage, particularly in the IT community. How could a 40-year-old woman with no prior criminal record be facing such serious charges over a few pop-up ads?

“The fact that the machine was never scanned for spyware by the investigating authorities is outrageous. In fact, this alone should have resulted in the case being dismissed, as the defense found a major spyware infection by their expert forensic evidence,” wrote Alex Eckelberry, the president of Sunbelt Software, a Florida-based firm that makes anti-spyware products.

Now, Amero has been granted a new trial, because — surprise! — the failure of authorities to scan for spyware *before* the trial led to the jury getting erroneous evidence from the state’s “expert.”

In setting aside the guilty verdict, Strackbein ruled that the witness the state presented as a computer expert, a Norwich police detective, provided “erroneous” testimony about the classroom computer.

“The jury may have relied, at least in part, on that false information,” said Strackbein.

The motion for a new trial was filed on Tuesday by Amero’s attorney, William F. Dow. The motion said that evidence gathered after Amero was convicted in January of four counts of risk or injury to a minor casts serious doubt on her guilt.

The judge cited a forensic computer analysis conducted by the state police crime lab – conducted after the guilty verdict – to support the argument that the verdict should be set aside. She said the lab report “contradicts testimony of the state’s computer witness.”

The state is not taking a position on the motion for a new trial, meaning that it’s unlikely Amero will be tried again. It seems like the prosecution’s tactics in the first trial were grounded in hysteria about kids seeing porn — even though they’re quite likely to be downloading it in their rooms at night. That Amero couldn’t have stopped the popups if she’d tried didn’t matter; Something had to Be Done to Protect the Children.

H/T Desertrat and Lindsay.

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16 comments for “Justice for Julie Amero

  1. June 7, 2007 at 1:29 am

    The same thing happened to a teacher of mine once. She threw the flag over the screen, called in the school’s tech guy and got the computer de-bugged. NOTHING to make a federal case over. Sick.

  2. June 7, 2007 at 1:29 am

    I can’t believe that there are actually laws to protect the morals of children.

  3. Mipa
    June 7, 2007 at 1:35 am

    This is scary! I think this is why I went to law school: growing up I always had a fear of being arbitrarily thrown in jail! She couldn’t have stopped it if she tried…
    Speaking of laws to protect the morals of children – what a waste of time and money this trial/appeal is. Certainly there are better ways the resources could be utilized to protect children.
    Shame on that jury.

  4. StarStorm
    June 7, 2007 at 4:47 am

    Hmm. I now have an additional reason to hate spyware.

    That, and I third the suprise of “protecting the morals of children”.

  5. June 7, 2007 at 4:56 am

    I’m so glad that she has been vindicated and is likely to have all charges disappear. The original prosecutorial team are incompetent moral panic merchants.

  6. June 7, 2007 at 9:50 am

    I hope she sues their pants off. What a waste of time and money. And they nearly ruined her life and gave her a criminal record, just because of some stupid hysteria….indefensible.

  7. Sniper
    June 7, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Christ, our school district has all kinds of computer security which any kid can evade by simply typing the search terms in Spanish – or any language other than English.

    I use the computers for reading, writing and researching. These are the skills I teach the kids. On the other hand, I have no idea how to download music or find free games or even change the damned wallpaper on the school computers, but the kids sure do. This case scared the hell out of me for obvious reasons. It’s the school equivalent of prosecuting parents becauase their teenaged kid found the porn stash. Insane.

  8. Betsy
    June 7, 2007 at 11:16 am

    When this first hit the news, it made me so angry and despairing. I’m incredibly relieved that our justice system hasn’t *totally* failed her (just 99%). What on earth could the idiot incompetents who decided to prosecute this poor woman have been thinking?

  9. Halloween Jack
    June 7, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    What on earth could the idiot incompetents who decided to prosecute this poor woman have been thinking?

    “We don’t have the guts to look the parents in the eye and say, ‘Wake the fuck up, it’s the twenty-first century, we can’t put a magic force-field around your children to protect them from this stuff; it’s your job to teach them that this crap isn’t cool, if that’s your belief.’ Need a scapegoat, need a scapegoat… any goth kids in the classroom that this can be semi-plausibly pinned on? Any misfits at all? Oh well… guess we’ll have to go with the teacher.”

  10. June 7, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Amero’s case became a hot issue for bloggers throughout the country, many of whom sharply criticized the guilty verdict. Strackbein criticized the bloggers today, saying they tried to “improperly influence” the court.

    And may bloggers do so many times again when such insane verdicts come around.

  11. Brad Jackson
    June 7, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    She’d be well advised sue the school, the county, and anyone else involved for an amount equal to her expected lifetime earnings as a teacher. Vindicated or not the odds are very good that she’ll never be hired by any school.

    Not that they’ll ever just come out and tell her “we won’t hire you because you were falsely accused of downloading porn a while back.”

  12. June 7, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    I remember this story. Seriously fucked up. Especially considering all the rapists that go free. Hey, we can’t get the De Anza rape case prosecuted, but a teacher accidentally showing her students a couple of seconds of porn? LOCK HER UP!

  13. June 8, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Agreed, this is why God, in Her infinite wisdom created torts.

  14. Magis
    June 8, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Malicious prosecution?

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