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Palin e-mail breach: David Kernell convicted of obstruction of justice, unauthorized access

9:22 PM, Apr 30, 2010   |    comments
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David Kernell walks to U.S. District Court

A federal jury found former UT student David Kernell guilty of obstruction of justice and unauthorized access in the breach of Sarah Palin's e-mail. It happened in September 2008, when Palin was running for U.S. Vice President.

The obstruction of justice conviction makes Kernell a felon.

The case is a mistrial on count one, the charge of identity theft.

The jury found Kernell not guilty on count 2, the charge of wire fraud.

Unauthorized access is a misdemeanor lesser included charge from count three, which accused Kernell of felony unlawful computer access.

The jury found Kernell guilty of obstruction of justice. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, with a fine up to $250,000.

The jury deliberated on the identity theft charge only for the past day, after telling the judge they'd reached a verdict on three of the four counts.

Despite that serious conviction, David Kernell left the courthouse on the same bond conditions: he must stay in East Tennessee, report to his probation officer, stay off the internet, and have no contact with Sarah Palin or her family.

His attorney, Wade Davies, issued a statement Friday afternoon:

"Mr. Kernell is doing well. He is gratefull for the time and consideration the jury gave this case. David particularly appreciates the support he received from his family and friends. Because the case is still pending, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time."

After the verdict came down, prosecutor Greg Weddle said, "We accept the jury's verdict. Every count had different elements.They obviously decided we had not met our burden as to wire fraud and we had met our burden on obstruction of justice and misdemeanor computer intrusion."

In court, defense attorney Davies called Kernell's actions a prank, but prosecutors disagree.

"The conduct was serious as presented in evidence at trial," prosecutor Mark Krotoski said. "He had every opportunity to pull out and not proceed but at each step he proceeded. So it ultimately, as the jury concluded, resulted in the deletion of evidence with the intent to impede an FBI Investigation."

Kernell will wait to find out his sentence.

Prosecutors must first decide whether to pursue a re-trial for that one count of identity theft on which the jury couldn't agree.

Judge Thomas Phillips has discretion in sentencing, but the maximum possible would be one year on one conviction and 20 years on the other.

Palin responds

My family and I are thankful that the jury thoroughly and carefully weighed the evidence and issued a just verdict. Besides the obvious invasion of privacy and security concerns surrounding this issue, many of us are concerned about the integrity of our country's political elections. America's elections depend upon fair competition. Violating the law, or simply invading someone's privacy for political gain, has long been repugnant to Americans' sense of fair play. As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates' private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election.

I want to thank the public servants who worked so hard on this case, particularly the jurors who gave up precious time from their jobs and families to listen to the evidence and reach a decision.

My family and I appreciate the good people of Knoxville, Tennessee, who showed us true Southern hospitality. We can't wait to visit again - but without having a subpoena in hand.

- Sarah Palin

Charges, possible sentence 

  • Count one: identity theft
    Maximum 5 years in prison
    $250,000 fine
    3 years supervised release 
  • Count two: wire fraud
    Maximum 20 years in prison
    $250,000 fine
    5 years supervised release 
  • Count three: unlawful computer access
    Maximum 5 years in prison
    $250,000 fine
    3 years supervised release
    **Lesser included misdemeanor offense on count 3 carries a maximum of 1 year in prison 
  • **Count four: obstruction of justice
    Maximum 20 years in prison
    $250,000 fine
    5 years supervised release

**David Kernell convicted on these charges

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