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Posted by on Nov 23, 2008 in Society | 3 comments

Julie Amero Case Over; No Justice Done

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A judge had overturned the conviction of the former Norwich, Ct. substitute teacher (Jul. 15, Mar. 14 and Jun. 10, 2007, etc.) over the episode in which her computer (almost certainly infected with unwanted malware) displayed a stream of dirty popup windows while her students were watching. To the amazement of many, prosecutors refused to drop the charges and moved to hold a second trial. Now Amero has agreed to resolve the episode by pleading down to a single misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, as opposed to the 40 years she could have gotten on the original charges.

Rick Green of the Hartford Courant reports Amero is (understandably) happy:

“Oh honey, it’s over. I feel wonderful,” Amero, 41, said a few minutes after accepting the deal where she also had to surrender her teaching license. “The Norwich police made a mistake. It was proven. That makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.”

It may have been proven, but they admit nothing:

…local officials, police and state prosecutors were unwilling to admit that a mistake may have been made — even after computer experts from around the country demonstrated that Amero’s computer had been infected by “spyware.”

New London County State’s Attorney Michael Regan told me late Friday the state remained convinced Amero was guilty and was prepared to again go to trial.

“I have no regrets. Things took a course that was unplanned. Unfortunately the computer wasn’t examined properly by the Norwich police,” Regan said.

Not examined properly and no justice has been done:

Justice would have been full exoneration with a deep, heartfelt apology from the prosecutor for not fully investigating the possibility that malware had infected the computer in the classroom where she was substituting.

Justice would have been a public statement from the prosecutor and Mark Lounsbury, the so-called police forensic “expert” who gave false testimony in her trial.

Justice would have been a proper investigation at the outset before she lost her baby, her reputation, her job, and ultimately, her good health.

Justice would have been placing the responsibility for the whole debacle at the feet of the school network administrator who did not have a full version of anti-virus or anti-spyware software installed, had almost no security policies in place, and hadn’t updated the virus definitions on what was on the computer for over three months.

Justice would be seeing the jerks who create malware thrown in jail with the key thrown out, forced to watch the same pornographic images they fed to unwitting PC owners over, and over, and over again, while handcuffed behind their back.

Julie Amero was hospitalized last week for symptoms relating to stress and a possible heart condition. Just four short years ago she was looking forward to the birth of her child and a life with her husband in a community she loved. She enjoyed substitute teaching, loves kids, was well-liked by the students in the school where she taught, and had prospects for a nice, quiet, drama-free life.

In Connecticut, a public defender:

[What] I suspect, (and evidenced by the surreptitious manner in which this case was resolved) is that the State was embarrassed publicly and nationally and closed its eyes tight and clenched its teeth and hoped and prayed this would go away so it could quietly slink into the courtroom and do away with this stain.

…Instead of owning up to their mistake and the possibility that there was an error, the State tried to shore up its ego by stretching this prosecution as long as it could.

What’s even stinkier is the fact that they just couldn’t let her go. Having kept her in limbo for 18 months, with failing health, wasn’t enough. They had to extract something – even if it were a slice of flesh.

I can understand why she accepted the offer and why her lawyer probably convinced her to take it. Get it over with. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s pretty obvious the only reason the State insisted on it is to make themselves look slightly better.

They aren’t fooling anyone.

Alex Eckelberry of Sunbelt Blog led a team of forensic investigators who analyzed a copy of the hard drive and issued a report used in overturning the original conviction. He spoke with Julie:

According to Julie, the courtroom was empty. It was just Julie; her husband, Wes; her attorney, Dow; the prosecutor, David Smith; and the judge, a Judge Young.

Smith continued to say that the State felt that they had enough of a case, but that due to Julie’s declining health, that he and William Dow had agreed to a lesser charge.

Dow told Smith that he’s more than willing to try the case, if the State is still willing.

Smith went on to describe all the terrible things that he believed Julie did. The judge interrupted him, telling him that he was only opening a wound, picking at a scab.

Now that it’s over, I hope this story gets told. Broadly. We can’t have another Julie.

Eckelberry thanks all who helped him and ends by saying, “Hopefully, we can help other ‘Julies’ who may find themselves in a similar terrible situation.”

I hope so too. The notion that this woman, a substitute teacher who was pregnant at the time of the incident, would walk into a seventh grade classroom, boot up a computer, and start surfing porn sites in the middle of class doesn’t pass the smell test. What I’d like to see come of it is a computer forensics innocence project.

Computer forensics is a complex, time consuming, and expensive process poorly understood outside the world of experts. Computer data is volatile and a good computer forensics expert must be skilled in the acquisition, analysis and presentation of computer evidence. For the average person, especially outside of big metropolitan areas, that’s impossibly hard to find.

Photo credit: the Hartford Courant. Wikipedia entry on the case. For those who doubt the presence of prosecutorial malice, a study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted from “intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel.”