Jury convicts Palin e-mail hacker

David Kernell faces up to 20 years in prison on federal felony charge

After four days of deliberation, a federal jury today convicted 22-year-old David C. Kernell of two charges stemming from a 2008 break-in of an e-mail account used by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The former University of Tennessee student was convicted of felony destruction of records to hamper a federal investigation and of a misdemeanor charge that he unlawfully accessed a protected computer, reported the Knoxville News Sentinel and WBIR Radio, also of Knoxville.

Kernell broke into Palin's Yahoo Mail account during the 2008 presidential campaign by using the service's password reset mechanism. At the time, Palin was the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate.

He faces a maximum 20-year prison term on the felony charge, and a maximum one-year stint for the misdemeanor offense. Kernell also faces a fine of up to $250,000.

Kernell was acquitted today of a federal wire fraud charge.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Phillips declared a mistrial on the charge of federal identity theft after the jury remained deadlocked for a second day. Federal prosecutors will decide next week whether to retry Kernell on that charge, the News Sentinel said in a story published on its Web site at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Yesterday, the News Sentinel said that the jury had been deadlocked on the charge of identity theft, and that the jury had sent Phillips a note saying: "Some of us feel not all jurors are following the jury instruction."

Kernell was indicted by a federal grand jury on a single count of accessing a computer without authorization in October 2008, a month after he allegedly broke into Palin's Yahoo Mail account. The remaining three charges were filed against Kernell in February 2009.

According to prosecutors, Kernell used the moniker "rubico" when he posted images of Palin's messages to an online message board, then bragged that it took him only 45 minutes to do the online research needed to reset Palin's password.

Internet sleuths had pointed to Kernell as the likely hacker within days of the event, based on evidence such as the IP address of the machine that used an Athens, Ga.-based proxy service to mask its identity.

Kernell's trial started April 20, but the jury began deliberating last Tuesday afternoon. Although both Palin and her daughter Bristol testified for the prosecution last week, Kernell did not take the stand in his own defense.

Kernell is the son of Mike Kernell, a longtime Democratic state legislator from Memphis.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about cybercrime and hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Knowledge Center.

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