Star power at hacking trial
Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010 8:02 pm
By BILL POOVEY
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Prosecutors are mixing star power — from Palins to Peyton — with testimony about Internet records at the felony trial of a former college student charged with hacking Sarah Palin’s e-mail.
Palin herself is expected to testify, possibly today. Her husband, Todd, is also a potential government witness and daughter Bristol took the witness stand briefly Wednesday before federal officers did her a favor in helping her sneak out and avoid a throng of television cameras.
The Palins’ appearances are being spread out in a trial that will likely last into next week and otherwise has jurors listening to technical testimony about Yahoo! and Facebook records used to link the intrusion into the e-mail account to David Kernell.
Defense attorney Wade Davies has told jurors the case is nothing more than an overblown prank and his client had no criminal intent. If convicted on the identity theft, wire fraud and other charges, the maximum possible penalty is 50 years in prison.
Davies has attempted to show that the e-mail account was accessible to other people and was not just used for private messages. In pre-trial motions he cited Palin’s possible influence with prospective jurors in traditionally Republican eastern Tennessee, including her involvement with the conservative tea party movement and frequent television appearances.
Prosecutors used Facebook records Thursday to show jurors how Kernell, then 20, bragged about his exploit and described his attempt to mask his identity. Jurors saw copies of Kernell’s Facebook activities after the September 2008 intrusion into Palin’s e-mail account just after she became Republican presidential presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate.
Facebook security director Max Kelly testified on the third day of the trial that users get unique IDs and records will show any action they took.
Kernell in an online chat said he saw “nothing incriminating” in Palin’s e-mail. That was followed by a frowning face symbol.
Davies told jurors Thursday that Kernell had his laptop sitting on his apartment desk for FBI agents in expectation of a warrant, making it easy for investigators to search his computer records.
“Would it be more difficult to retrieve evidence if it had been thrown in the river?” Davies asked FBI agent Stephen McFall.
“Yes,” said McFall, a computer forensics specialist who was on the witness stand more than three hours Thursday and was to resume testifying today.
McFall, responding mostly to questions about how he copied information from Kernell’s computer and tracked records of deleted files, also testified that he discovered profanity-laced comments and online boasting after the hacking that said, “I am God.”
Prosecution testimony has also dropped some names that are popular in this conservative and football-focused part of Tennessee.
Bristol Palin testified Wednesday that she at first didn’t know why she was suddenly bombarded with harassing phone calls and text messages from people she didn’t know. Later she learned from a TV report about the hacking and posting of her cell phone number online.
“I think it was Fox News,” she said. That’s the network where Sarah Palin is now a paid political analyst.
Frank Bailey of Anchorage, Alaska, a former Palin campaign aide who also worked in her state administration, told jurors that he set up the Yahoo e-mail account for Palin just after she was picked to be Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate.
He said that once he found out about an intrusion in the account in September 2008, he hurriedly — at his wife’s suggestion — “built a password out of Peyton Colts” to block further intruders.
“Just like Peyton Manning?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Weddle asked Bailey.
Bailey said his wife is more of a sports fan than he is and he didn’t make the connection to the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who remains beloved from his years as signal caller at the University of Tennessee, the same college Kernell attended.
“I’m embarrassed to say I did not,” Bailey said.
After the Wednesday court session ended, Kernell was asked by WMC-TV of Memphis what he thought of Bristol Palin.
He replied, “She’s not my type.”
Published in The Messenger 4.23.10