Palin e-mail snoop found guilty on two charges

Obstruction of justice and computer fraud convictions could carry hefty jail time

David Kernell

A federal jury in Knoxville today has convicted David Kernell, 22, of two charges in connection with the 2008 episode where he accessed the personal Yahoo e-mail account of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and then initiated a worldwide rummaging of its contents.

Kernell was found guilty of computer fraud - a misdemeanor subject to a prison term of up to one year -- and obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence. He was found not guilty of wire fraud and the jury deadlocked on a fourth charge of identity theft, according to a report by WBIR.com.

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A sentencing date will not be set until prosecutors decide whether they will retry kernel on the deadlocked charge, according to this report.

The trial started April 20 and jurors had begun their deliberations on Tuesday.

Earlier today it had been reported that the jury had reached unanimous decisions on three of the four counts lodged against Kernell, but remained deadlocked on the fourth, which accused him of having committed identity theft.

Before the trial started, a judge had rejected a pre-trial motion from the defense contending that Palin's e-mail address and password could not constitute her "identity" for purposes of identity theft, because anyone could register any name they want online. Whether that issue had anything to do with the delay in reaching a verdict was not clear.

However, there was indication that some jurors were frustrated with how a few of their colleagues were conducting their deliberations, with a note from the panel reading: "Some of us feel not all jurors are following jury instructions."

The case has drawn international attention because its cast of characters include not only mega-celebrity Palin, but Kernell's father, Michael Kernell, a longtime Tennessee state legislator, as well as the notorious Internet message board 4chan and controversial whistleblower Web site Wikileaks, both of which were involved in disseminating the e-mail and pictures from Palin's account.

The media has been in full feeding-frenzy mode for two weeks.

(Update: Palin compares her victimization in this case to Watergate, writing on Facebook: "Violating the law, or simply invading someone's privacy for political gain, has long been repugnant to Americans' sense of fair play. As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates' private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election." ... Uh, right, Watergate and some college kid distributing Palin family pictures; same thing.)

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