After months of delays and heaps of scorn on the judicial system, a Connecticut substitute teacher who was convicted of exposing children to pornographic images on school computers will receive a new trial.
Julie Amero, 40, of Norwich, Conn., had been working as a substitute 7th-grade teacher at Kelly Middle School in October 2004 when pornographic images began to appear on the school’s computers.
Unfamiliar with computers, she didn’t know how to handle the situation. Teachers at the school told her not to worry about it, but after students told their parents and the parents complained, Amero, four months pregnant at the time, was arrested and tried for four counts of risk or injury to a minor, which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years per count.
Prosecutors did not oppose the defense motion for a new trial. Superior Court Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, who presided over the original trial, set aside the guilty verdict, ruling that the witness the state presented as a computer expert, a Norwich police detective, provided “erroneous” testimony about the classroom computer.
However, Strackbein also criticized the bloggers that have been so vocal in attacking the case, saying they tried to “improperly influence” the court. One of those bloggers, Randy Abrams, director of technical education for antivirus vendor ESET Software, hit right back.
“The judge knew that there was evidence to the contrary of what the state misrepresented and deliberately chose not to allow it to be presented,” he told internetnews.com. “This is an obvious case of sour grapes due to the evidence showing the judge’s apathy, if not antagonism, toward justice. If the judge had been more inclined to justice in the first place the state would never have had to rediscover the known evidence.”
Alex Eckelberry, CEO of Sunbelt Software, was also critical of the prosecution of Amero and had helped her new attorney with her appeal. He was more reserved in his response.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome of the trial,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “However, there’s still the spectre of a new trial, and so the show isn’t over yet. This entire event was a testament to the power of a community of people coming together in a common cause.”
Ari Schwartz, deputy director for the Center for Democracy & Technology, also issued a statement on the case. “Spyware has ruined the computer experiences of millions of people. It is important that courts understand what these technologies are capable of doing so that they can reach informed decisions in cases involving computer mischief. It is all too easy today for Internet criminals to exploit naivety and lack of preparedness on the part of innocent computer users.”
Amero was convicted in January after a two-day trial where her attorney, ill in the late stages of multiple sclerosis, put on a poor defense.
Details of the case, such as the fact the school was using aging Windows 98 computers with no antivirus software and no firewall, quickly made their way onto Slashdot, Digg and other news aggregators, and Connecticut became a target for serious derision on the blogosphere.
The case even became a source of conflict within the state, as Amero’s sentencing was delayed four times and the state’s attorney general’s office became involved. While her hometown newspaper all but convicted her in print, the Hartford Courant, the state’s largest newspaper, delivered a smackdown of the case and the prosecutors.