Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pop up porn can get you 40 years

NEWS COLUMNISTS
Rick Green Rick Green

Porn Case: Ducking For Cover

May 18, 2007

The state of Connecticut spent two years investigating before it won a speedy conviction of Julie Amero - the infamous Norwich porn teacher - this January.

But it was never as tidy as the Norwich Public Schools, the Norwich police, the state of Connecticut and the Norwich Bulletin newspaper made it seem.

In truth, Amero, a clumsy computer novice, was the victim of malicious software that took over the PC in the classroom where she was substituting on Oct. 19, 2004. Since Amero's arrest, the state has refused to even consider this possibility.

Then, a few weeks ago, as Amero faced sentencing, Assistant State's Attorney David J. Smith filed a startling motion in Superior Court:

"The state has not completed a full examination of all the issues which may affect its position at the sentence hearing."

Translation: We were wrong. We are trying to figure a CYA way out of this mess.

They still are. Amero's sentencing Thursday was delayed again until June 6 - the fourth postponement since March. She's still convicted of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, facing a potential 40 years in jail.

"There were issues raised by the defense subsequent to the trial," State's Attorney Michael Regan said Thursday.

Back in January, there was no uncertainty. Amero was a bumbling porn-surfer guilty of four counts of risk of injury to a minor. Smith even objected to evidence that a key witness wanted to present that would have shown that Amero was a victim of "spyware" and pornographic "pop-up" ads bombarding the computer.

"The evidence is very strong, very clear-cut, that the defendant was the only person that had access to that computer," Smith said in his closing argument. The pop-ups argument, he told judge and jury, was ridiculous.

"It's very clear that that just didn't happen," Smith concluded.

He was careful to repeat the lurid names of the websites and to project the dirty pictures on a large screen for the court to see. These were images that never popped up in the classroom, but the state was too busy to bother with this detail.

"The evidence is overwhelming ... she purposefully went to these websites. ... We know that the images on there were offensive," Smith said, ramming his point home. "She clearly should not have allowed this to happen. The evidence is clear. She is guilty of all the charges."

Except when you consider the facts.

Thankfully, a team of computer security experts from throughout the country, drawn to the case by outraged Internet bloggers and a handful of journalists, has presented Smith and his bosses with the truth.

Amero didn't click on the porn. Software that might have blocked the porn was months out of date. Critical evidence was mishandled. School and police computer "experts" who testified were woefully ignorant about computer security and porn spyware to the point that their testimony was blatantly false.

The state's case began unraveling soon after the hapless jury voted to convict. A firestorm of pressure - from university professors and software executives to programmers - forced repeated postponements of Amero's sentencing.

But never underestimate public officials when they are cornered. When Amero is finally sentenced, expect a deal that keeps the egg off the many faces behind this sham trial.

Inevitably, Amero will be exonerated. We all deserve an apology for this insulting case.

Rick Green's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at rgreen@courant.com


E-mail: rgreen@courant.com

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