Preston Gralla: A class act

Last week, a few of us got a bit upset at Preston Gralla at ComputerWorld, who blogged that Julie Amero had been rightfully convicted of surfing porn (this is the middle-aged substitute teacher who had a porn-spewing spyware infestation on her computer, and is looking at 40 years in prison).

He wrote me a gracious email this evening to tell me that he wrote a follow-up to his last post, where he states that if the machine was, in fact, infected with spyware, than it is a miscarriage of justice.

…I haven't personally seen the teacher's PC. But if in fact it was infested with spyware, as people say, and if the school system let the site filtering lapse, then what happened is a miscarriage of justice. And if that's the case, I clearly wrote my blog before knowing the facts, and was flat-out wrong.

It takes a quite a man to make a statement like that. Preston: I salute you.

Folks — feel free to follow-up on his site with a comment. His blog post is here.

And just to recap the facts of the case as we know it:

Julie Amero, a 40–year old substitute teacher, has been convicted of charges related to certain children in her 7th grade class seeing porn on a classroom computer. She is facing up to 40 years in prison.

A forensic examination by an expert, W. Herbert Horne, showed that the machine was infected with porn-spewing spyware. In other words, these were not popups coming from a website, they were popups created by a piece of malware on the computer. Surpringly, the prosecution admits that it made no search made for spyware during its investigation.

The forensic expert also found that here were multiple user accounts on the computer, and porn had been on the computer for quite some time.

David Smith, the prosecutor, said that Amero intended to access the pornographic sites because she had to "physically click" to "get to those sites". The statement is so patently wrong it boggles the mind. When a popup occurs on a computer, it will get logged as a normal website visit (as well as the graphic material itself) and no “physical click” is necessary.

Much of the case apparently came down to the prosecution's self-righteous statement that "she should have turned off the computer". This is ridiculous. Amero was a substitute teacher under strict orders by the school administrators not to turn off the computer. She was arguably shocked and feeling somewhat helpless by the situation, and sources report that she did report this incident to the proper school authorities. Furthermore, she certainly did try to keep the children from viewing this material, at every instance blocking the children from being able to see the popups by physically standing in their way or pushing them away. This was not a case of a "teacher surfing porn". This was an accident caused by poorly maintained computer equipment.

Not that it’s probably legally relevant, but the activities of the court may have cause for some suspicion. One source reports that the Trial Judge, Hillary Strackbein, “was seen falling asleep during proceedings and made comments to the jury that she wanted the case over by the end of the week. It was also reported that Judge Strackbein attempted to pressure the defense into an unwanted plea deal, in place of a trial. The defense attorney for Amero, moved for a mistrial shortly before closing arguments Friday, based on reports that jurors had discussed the case at a local restaurant.” (I believe that the judge questioned the jurors subsequently and they denied having discussed the case.)

The school didn't even have up-to-date content filtering in place. Even the federal government requires content filtering for schools that receive federal funding, as mandated by CIPA — the Children's Internet Protection Act. (I don’t know if they were receiving federal funding, but it’s irrelevant. Adequate content filtering is a basic requirement for any school.)

This thing has to get thrown out on appeal. It’s such an injustice. This case cannot stand, as the precedent it would create would be quite unnerving — not the mention the fact that an innocent woman may very well go to prison for a long time.

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