June 6th, 2007

YatPundit: Julie Amero is free


So, Norwich, CT, substitute teacher Julie Amero has been granted a new trial:

NEW LONDON -- A Superior Court judge Wednesday granted a new trial for Julie Amero, 40, a Norwich substitute teacher whose faulty computer spewed pornographic images in her seventh grade classroom.

"I had a great team behind me,'' a tearful Amero said. "I feel very confident with the decision today.''

The new trial ordered by Superior Court Judge Hillary B. Strackbein comes after a campaign on Amero's behalf by computer security experts around the country, who offered evidence showing that Amero's computer was taken over by malicious "spyware" that caused a rapid fire sequence of pornographic "pop-up" windows to appear on the screen.

This has been a troublesome case from the start. So many people have been inundated with malware attacks, spam from porn providers, and web-based popup ads for porn sites that it was almost incomprehensible to me that someone would find something insidious about this incident. Still, Norwich had a cop with little-to-no computer training, much less computer forensic training, and allowed him to go after this poor woman.

Worse still, a criminal court judge allowed this detective to testify as an expert witness. Hell, I've been doing computer programming and support work for 36 years, and I don't think I could get certified to testify as an expert on web-based malware. Reporting by Steve Bass of PC World and Mark Rasch of SecurityFocus indicates that neither the prosecutor nor the "expert" witness really have a clue.

The rational for setting aside the verdict, frankly, scares the crap out of me:

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."

They put this woman in the dock based on the affidavits and reports of an untrained police detective. A prosecutor ran with this knowledge and did his damnedest to ruin Amero's life. Now, the judge says this was "false information." Providing false information to a courtroom, under oath should have more consequences to this detective and prosecutor than a simple "oops, we fucked up." If the CT state police's lab and dozens of independent experts could present reasonable doubt in this case after the verdict why wasn't this evidence produced at trial? Would it have been so difficult to not simply take the word of an untrained police officer as gospel?

I don't know if Amero has any legal recourse against the detective in question and the Norwich PD, but I hope she can take them to the cleaners.

Another disturbing aspect of this case is reported by Andrew Kantor, a technology writer for USA Today. In his blog, he reports that the Norwich Bulletin, the paper of record for this case, is purging stories and blog entries where their support for convicting and punishing Amero was quite vocal. Of course, people who pull this sort of stunt are usually too dumb to realize that Teh Google has its neat "cache" feature, but still the "We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia" aspect of this is a concern.

In any case, the prosecutor will not re-try Amero, so hopefully she can put this ugly incident behind her.

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