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When you go into a court of law in the United States there is one person who has taken an oath to pursue justice. The judge, jury, defense, and witnesses all participate in the legal system without an oath to pursue justice. The prosecutor is the one person who has taken an oath to pursue justice. If the prosecutor is to enlist the aid of an expert, there is a real need to be able to identify a qualified expert. Should the prosecutor hire a convincing, but incompetent “expert” the result can be that the jury is essentially lied to. The “expert” isn’t lying by definition (intent), but they present factually incorrect information to the jury under the guise of expert knowledge.
At this point a technically savvy judge might disqualify testimony that is known to contradict established fact, but this presumes the judge is versed in technology. The legal system has many checks and balances, and even with the prosecutor, expert “witness”, and judge all unfit to evaluate the evidence before them, there is still hope! The defense attorney can bring in experts who can contradict the prosecutions’ experts and even demonstrate how completely inaccurate the other “expert” is.
But what if the defense is not technically savvy or make a mistake that allows the prosecution to protest the admittance of critical evidence? Now the last line of defense is a jury of peers. If the accused is highly non-technical then there is no reason to believe a jury of peers would be any different. In this scenario, a jury is completely mislead by an incompetent “expert” and buys the impossible hook, line and sinker… passing a guilty verdict on the innocent.
Unlikely? Apparently not. This is essentially the case of Connecticut vs. Julie Amero.
The only real question is: was it a legal system unversed in technology that leads to a “Salem Witch Hunt” or was it massive corruption that potentially includes the school board, prosecutor’s office, and the police?
In Norwich, CT back in October 2004 they didn’t buy anti-virus software and install it on PCs for the teachers in the class rooms. They did run Windows 98 with Internet Explorer 6, an out-dated and unsupported and retired anti-virus application, no other pop-up protection, no anti-spyware, no anti-adware, no firewall, and 4 month old perimeter content filtering system.
On Oct. 19, 2004 Julie Amero, a 38 year old, 4 month pregnant substitute teacher showed up to teach the class of Matthew Napp. The school, neglecting virtually all known reasonable security practices, provided no computer account for Amero, so Napp logged onto the computer for Amero to use. Amero had no way to know that the computer was already infected. When pornographic pop-ups appeared, the computer illiterate Amero had no idea what to do. Reportedly told not to turn off the computer, she panicked and tried to close the pop-ups. Despite attempting to get help, not a single person in the school was able to offer any help at all. It didn’t occur to anyone in the school to turn off the monitor.
Some students saw some small, low resolution pornographic images and reported the incident to their parents. Julie Amero reported the incident to the vice principal and was told not to worry.
The police arrested Julie for 10 counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child. Note, the prosecution is maintaining that a 38 year old, 4 month old, poorly paid, substitute teacher was deliberately showing pornography to minors. Adds up, right?
At this juncture, a prosecutor interested in pursuing justice will seek out a competent expert witness – if he is able to. The prosecutor in this case, David Smith hired a police detective who was entirely unqualified to investigate the case and incapable, through intent or ignorance, of sticking to factual testimony. The irony of including Detective Lounsbury in a case concerning the morals of minors can be found here. http://www.wtnh.com/Global/story.asp?S=594152
The very first thing a skilled investigator would have done is to look for malicious software. The completely obvious answer was that adware had caused the problem. If you want to pursue justice you do not over look that possibility unless you are so unskilled you did not know it was a possibility.
Detective Mark Lounsbury, the prosecution’s unskilled “expert” did not know enough to start at step one. Instead of using a trained, disciplined, professional forensic approach, he pulled out a cute little software utility called ComputerCop Pro. Here is where things went from bad to worse. Det. Lounsbury actually seems to have believed that if a link is found it means that the person deliberately went to the site. Det. Lounsbury did not know that sites displayed by pop-ups show up as high-lighted.
The jury was told that Amero had to have clicked on links when there was absolutely no evidence to support the conclusion. If the prosecution was not lying, then incompetence, so severe that the prosecutor was doomed to fail in any effort to honor his oath to seek justice, must be assumed.
There was one expert in the room for the trial. A defense witness by the name of W. Herbert Horner who is a highly skilled forensics expert was actively prevented from delivering critical testimony by the judge in response to the prosecutor’s objections.
At this point the obvious conclusion is that the prosecutor had abandoned his oath to pursue justice, however, if he had been so completely deceived about what he knew by his own incompetent “expert”, perhaps the conclusion is unwarranted. I am reminded of a saying not to assume malice where ignorance is the likely explanation.
Security experts from around the world have rallied to Amero’s aid. Every skilled security professional in the world who has looked into this case is shocked that it went to trial. It is completely unbelievable that it resulted in conviction.
The prosecutor has one last chance to attempt to uphold his oath to pursue justice. The prosecutor can review the findings of bona fide researchers who have examined the hard drive and the trial transcripts. If the prosecutor does this he will be forced file a motion to vacate the conviction. If corruption is not the motivation in the prosecution of this case, and the prosecutor still does not move to vacate the conviction, we can only assume that a prosecutor ignorant of technology is not able to fulfill an oath to pursue justice.
What does a former head of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit think about the Amero case? See http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/434
To help promote justice and education please consider donating to the Julie Amero defense fund at http://julieamer.blogspot.com/
Director of Technical Education
Author ESET Research, ESET