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Ex-judge jailed for child abuse

Vigilante hacker claims scalp after six year legal wrangle

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A former senior judge from California has been jailed for 27 months for possession of child pornography in a case initially based on evidence from a vigilante hacker.

The sentencing of Ronald C Kline, 66, on Tuesday brought an end to six years of legal wrangling over the admissibility of evidence obtained after Kline's PC was infected with Trojan code planted by Brad Willman, a Canadian hacker dubbed "Citizen Tipster" by police.

Willman (AKA Omni-Potent) planted the Trojan, which posed as images of child abuse on newsgroups frequented by paedophiles, in 1999. Willman then began obsessively monitoring the activities of the 3,000 suspected perverts whose PCs he had infected, focusing on those he suspected were planning to molest children, such as Kline.

Willman discovered explicit images of young boys on Kline's PC and, even more seriously, a diary detailing his fantasies about abusing young boys.

Results of these investigations, in themselves illegal, were in May 2000 passed onto the police who executed search warrants, recovering evidence from Kline's home PC and his court computer. These in turn led to federal charges against Kline of possessing child porn and child molestation charges in state court.

The state case was dismissed after the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution had extended beyond the statute of limitations. The federal case also looked likely to collapse after US District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall ruled in 2003 that images of child abuse obtained from Kline's computer had been seized illegally because Willman was acting as an agent for the police.

But an appeal court overturned this ruling in 2004 and sent the case back to the lower court for trial. In December 2005, Kline pleaded guilty to four counts of possession of child pornography after admitting that he'd stored more than 100 explicit images of underage boys.

Kline, who has a history of heart disease, hoped his guilty plea would act in mitigation against his offences. He fainted after he was sentenced to imprisonment on Tuesday, The Orange County Register reports.

Kline will not be eligible for release until he serves at least 23 months of his sentence. Upon his release, the former judge (who lost his job in 2002 as a result of the child abuse charges against him) will be placed on probation for three years and obliged to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. ®

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