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Qualcomm ‘superhacker’ wins change of venue

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Accused superhacker Jerome Heckenkamp is saying goodbye to sunny San Diego, California after winning a venue change for a 10-count indictment accusing him of sophisticated hack attacks against telecom equipment-maker Qualcomm.

A federal judge in San Diego ordered the case transferred Thursday to San Jose, California five hundred miles to the north, where Heckenkamp is already facing a weightier indictment accusing him of penetrating computers belonging to Lycos, Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks and Cygnus Support Solutions, and defacing online auction site eBay under the hacker handle "MagicFX."

The transfer took place at the request of Heckenkamp's attorney, Blair Berk, and over the objections of prosecutors, who called the request a delaying tactic. The judge in the Northern California case has indicated that he'll probably merge the Qualcomm indictment into the existing case.

It's an important win for Heckenkamp. Although they covered different individual acts, both indictments were essentially accusing Heckenkamp of the same 1999 hacking spree. So even if the former Los Alamos National Labs network engineer had gone to trial and been acquitted in San Diego, the San Jose case would have given prosecutors a second chance at a conviction.

"In general, the defendant wants to make sure the government only gets one bite at the apple," says Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, and a former attorney with the Justice Department's computer crime section.. "If all the counts are heard together, then it's one case, one prosecution and one defense."

Prosecutors claim that a detailed "hacker journal" recovered from the deleted file space on his computer link Heckenkamp to intrusions at 120 different universities and companies. Heckenkamp, 23, has maintained his innocence, insisting that someone else broke into his system and used it to do the hacking.

After being held without bail for months, last November Heckenkamp was released from pre-trial custody on a signature bond executed by his father. He's currently living in Los Angeles under house arrest -- forbidden to leave home except to attend legal meetings or go to work, or for 90 minutes of exercise a day, and barred from the Internet.

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