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Ebay hacking case gets weird

Self-imprisoned suspect fires, re-hires lawyer

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A day of hearings Wednesday at a federal court in San Jose, Calif. ended with accused Ebay hacker Jerome Heckenkamp re-hiring his attorney, and the government accusing the 22-year-old computer expert of secretly accessing the Internet in violation his pre-trial release conditions.



Heckenkamp has been in custody since Friday, when he fired lawyer Jennifer Granick and persuaded U.S. magistrate Patricia Trumble to rescind the $50,000 in bail posted by a friend a year ago, in order to relieve his friend from the financial burden of the bond.

In a jailhouse interview Tuesday, Heckenkamp told SecurityFocus that his self-arrest was also prompted by frustration over the slow pace of his case, and court-ordered release conditions that restricted his movement and barred him from using the Internet. "I just realized what's going on, and what's going to continue to go on," said Heckenkamp.

Throughout a remarkable ninety-minute hearing Wednesday morning, Heckenkamp appeared unwavering in his determination to personally take over his defense against a slew of computer crime charges in two federal jurisdictions.

The accused hacker stood perfectly still at the courtroom podium and evenly rejected the most strongly-worded advice from Granick and Trumble. From the bench, Trumble pointedly quizzed the imprisoned computer expert on his knowledge of federal criminal procedure and rules of evidence, emphasized his lack of experience in criminal law, and generally painted a bleak picture of a future in which he takes his case to trial without assistance from an attorney.

"Ten years in federal prison would make you about thirty when you got out," Trumble said from the bench.

Heckenkamp remained undeterred. "This is my case," he said. "And I have to do what I can to win... I think I'm the best person to do that."

Trumble eventually ruled that Heckenkamp could represent himself, and adjourned the hearing until the afternoon, intending to hear Heckenkamp on his request to be released from custody without posting bail.

Computers Searched
But when U.S. Marshals brought Heckenkamp back into the courtroom at 3:00 p.m., he had changed his mind. After meeting with attorney Granick in the courthouse's prisoner holding area, the accused hacker decided to stick with his lawyer after all, just as suddenly as he decided to fire her last Friday.

"I believe that, after talking with my attorney Jennifer, we can both play an active role in my defense," he told the magistrate.

Granick, who serves as clinical director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, wasn't present for the afternoon appearance, but confirmed in an interview that she was back on the case. "I think he thought there were things he could only do representing himself," said Granick. "And he realized in the hearing that he was wrong."

Heckenkamp's change of heart wasn't the only surprise.

Prosecutor Ross Nadel declared that a search of Heckenkamp's home computers by the court's Pre-Trial Services division, which oversees defendants on bail, turned up evidence that Heckenkamp had accessed the Internet, in violation of his release conditions. The search, Nadel said, was carried out with the help of the FBI.

The prosecutor said he planned to ask that Heckenkamp be kept in jail pending trial, currently scheduled to begin in March. He also requested that Trumble issue an emergency order allowing the government to immediately seize Heckenkamp's computers from his San Jose home. "Those computers need to be preserved, so that any evidence on those computers can be preserved," said Nadel.

Trumble declined to issue such an order, and instead instructed Pre-Trial Services to submit the correct paperwork for property seizure.

Heckenkamp protested the entire exchange, telling the magistrate that his home computer contains confidential information regarding his defense. Further, he said, there were no legal grounds to search it after he'd been taken into custody.

At the conclusion of the Wednesday hearing, Heckenkamp also learned that his bail money had not yet been "exonerated," i.e., returned to the friend who posted it, because the San Diego federal court where he faces some of his charges had not yet signed off.

Heckenkamp argued that because the bail hadn't been returned, he should be released, rather than spending another night at Santa Clara County Jail. "I believe all my rights are being violated here," Heckenkamp said. "If bail has not been exonerated, I should not be taken into custody."

Trumble demurred, and said she would take up the issue when hearings continue Thursday, and Heckenkamp returns to court with Granick.

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 belonging to Lycos, Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks, E-Trade Group and Cygnus Support Solutions. Heckenkamp says he's innocent on all counts.

© 2001 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved.

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