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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