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Substitute teacher's conviction for porn popups set aside

'Erroneous' testimony to the rescue

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Julie Amero, the substitute teacher convicted of four felony counts when a computer in her classroom subjected seventh-graders to pornographic images, has been granted a new trial in light of fresh forensic information that came to light following her first trial.

Amero faced up to 40 years in prison for the offense, which stemmed from an incident in October of 2004 while she was teaching at a middle school in Norwich, Connecticut. What seems undisputed is that a computer in the class room displayed a series of pornographic images, including one of a couple engaged in oral sex.

Less clear is how the event came to be. Prosecutors argued Amero had actively caused the computer to display the images and argued her actions resulted in felony risk or injury to a minor. Court rules prevented Amero's defense team from presenting testimony that could have shown the computer was infected with malware that forced the computer to display pop-ups.

Amero's conviction became a cause celebre for bloggers and information security professionals all over the world. They argued, rather convincingly, that the malware epidemic - and public officials' frequent obliviousness to it - were responsible for one of the more spectacular breakdowns in American justice this decade.

Following Amero's January conviction, a team of pro-bono researchers set out to analyze the contents of the PC which was running Windows 98 SE, an operating system with notoriously weak security.

In setting aside the conviction on Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Hillary B. Strackbein ruled that the prosecution's expert computer witness, a Norwich police detective, provided "erroneous" testimony about the classroom computer, according to an article in the Hartford Courant. She cited a forensic computer analysis conducted after the trial by the state police crime lab, which she said "contradicts testimony of the state's computer witness."

At Wednesday's hearing, Assistant State Attorney David Smith - who during the trial argued the evidence was "clear cut" that Amero had caused the pornography to appear on the computer - acknowledged that erroneous information concerning the computer was presented to the jury. He said the state would take no position on Amero's motion for a new trial, an indication she will not be tried again.

"A great weight has been lifted off my back," a tearful Amero, 40, said following the ruling. ®

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