Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kernell's conviction stands in Palin hacking trial

A federal judge has denied the son of a Tennessee state lawmaker's motion to have his convictions thrown out in the illegal access of Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account during the 2008 presidential election.

But the lawyer for David C. Kernell, son of Democrat Mike Kernell, may be able to get his client's sentencing, scheduled for next month, delayed. Defense attorney Wade Davies is appealing the ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips, issued Thursday, to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals:
Kernell figured out the answer to Palin's password security account courtesy of Google and Wikipedia, changed the password, gained access to the account and boasted about it on a popular Internet discussion board.

Davies argued it was nothing more than a college prank by a rank computer amateur. Federal prosecutors assigned a more sinister motive, arguing Kernell, the son of long-time Memphis Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell, went searching for politically damaging information but came up empty-handed.

The feds slapped Kernell with four felony charges. At his trial in April jurors rejected a wire fraud charge outright, reduced a felony illegal e-mail access charge to a misdemeanor, deadlocked on an identity theft count and convicted Kernell of the felony charge of anticipatory obstruction of justice.

In a motion asking Phillips to toss out the two convictions, Davies argued the government came up short in proving Kernell's panic-stricken bid to clear his computer of evidence just hours after his e-mail foray was designed to throw the FBI off his trail.


Phillips disagreed, however.

"While (Kernell) did not destroy his computer, the evidence at trial showed that Defendant attempted to delete images that he downloaded from the account (including images of Governor Palin's family, and screen shots of the Account)," Phillips wrote. "Defendant also uninstalled his web browser and cleared the internet cache from the internet browser.

"… A rational trier of fact could conclude that such actions were done in an attempt to hide his conduct. Considering the totality of the evidence, and viewing such evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the Court finds that the government presented sufficient evidence at trial that the Defendant acted with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation of a matter by or within the jurisdiction of the FBI."
Barring any further delays, Kernell will be sentenced Oct. 29. He faces only 15 to 21 months in jail, but Davies is expected to push for probation for his client.

- JP

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