Accused eBay hacker volunteered for jail
'I didn't feel free anyway'
Frustration with the slow pace of his legal proceedings and strict pre-trial restrictions spurred accused Ebay hacker Jerome Heckenkamp to ask a judge to rescind his bail and send him to jail, the 22-year-old imprisoned computer expert told SecurityFocus Tuesday.
"As long as I was out on bond, I didn't feel free anyway," said Heckenkamp, in an interview at the Santa Clara Country Jail in San Jose, Calif. "And I can't work on my case properly with the computer restrictions."
Heckenkamp was taken into custody at his own request after a hearing Friday when, as first reported by Newsbytes, he persuaded a U.S. magistrate to return the $50,000 in bail a friend had posted on his behalf. The accused hacker also fired his defense attorney, noted cyber law expert Jennifer Granick, to represent himself in court.
"I didn't feel like I was running the show," says Heckenkamp, who charges that Granick wasn't fighting his case with sufficient vigor. "I'm the only one who's going to lose out. I'll fight this with all my heart." Granick, clinical director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, wouldn't comment on the case, citing attorney-client obligations.
A former network engineer at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, Heckenkamp lost his job in January, 2001, when prosecutors charged him with defacing eBay under the hacker handle MagicFX, and accused him of penetrating computers belong to Lycos, Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks, E-Trade Group and Cygnus Support Solutions. Heckenkamp says he's innocent on all counts.
"Some of these companies I had never even heard of before I was charged," says Heckenkamp, who claims that hackers penetrated his dorm-room computer when he was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, and used it to crack other systems. "There's plenty of evidence to support that," Heckenkamp says.
Despite his unusual request to be incarcerated, Heckenkamp says he has no interest in martyrdom. Instead, after a year of pre-trial motions and discovery, he says he simply became fed-up with a set of court-ordered release conditions that restricted his movement, and barred him from using the Internet, even as the expenses of traveling for his court appearances mounted. "I just realized what's going on, and what's going to continue to go on." Heckenkamp also says he felt he was putting a financial hardship on the Bay Area friend who posted the $50,000 bail.
"I feel very relieved that there is no longer a bond anymore, that I'm not a burden on my friend, and I'm not living like a slave under [prosecutor] Ross Nadel's restrictions," Heckenkamp says.
Heckenkamp spent most of the weekend locked in a two-person cell in the Santa Clara County Jail's modern prisoner orientation unit, where new inmates are screened and assigned their long term accommodations. Tuesday morning, he was transferred to a tank housing approximately forty inmates in the older section of the jail, built in 1956.
Dressed in jail-issue orange and sporting a plastic wristband, Heckenkamp appeared at ease in his surroundings, and was quick to smile and joke Tuesday. Even after a taste of incarceration, he says he doesn't regret last week's decision. "I basically forced myself into this... I knew that I was going to be in jail, but I didn't know what to expect."
Heckenkamp is scheduled to reappear before the same magistrate Wednesday morning, when he'll ask to be released without reposting bail, and without the pre-trial computer restrictions. He'll also ask the court to formally approve him as his own defense attorney. Granick will also attend the hearing.
If he isn't released, Heckenkamp says he's prepared to fight his case from behind bars. "There's been three plea bargains offered so far, and I'm not interested in any of them," he says. The only settlement that he'd consider would be "one that would involve no time and no felony record. And then I would think about it."
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