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Smut pop-up teacher retrial stuck in delay loop

Good name limbo

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Substitute teacher turned smut-serving spyware suspect Julie Amero remains stuck in legal limbo, with the case taking a toll on both her health and job prospects, Connecticut paper the Hartford Courant reports.

More than a year after Superior Court Judge Hillary Strackbein dismissed a discredited child endangerment conviction and ordered a retrial, Amero continues to wait for a chance to clear her name. Her woes stem from a October 2004 incident when she was teaching a seventh-grade language class at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Connecticut. Graphic pop-ups from sites including meetlovers.com were displayed on her computer.

The prosecution contended the pop-up graphics were the result of Amero actively visiting pornographic sites. A jury rejected defence arguments that a spyware infestation was responsible for the porno pop-ups, convicting her of four counts of risk of injury to a minor that carried a maximum sentence of 40 years imprisonment.

The January 2007 trial became a cause célèbre in internet security circles, sparking a campaign on Amero's behalf. It quickly emerged that the teacher was virtually computer-illiterate, and the school had failed to update the child protection software running on her PC. Defence expert witness W. Herbert Horner said he was prevented from presenting key evidence that malware could have caused the offending pop-ups at the original trial.

Amero's sentencing date was repeatedly delayed leading up to a decision by Judge Strackbein to order the as-yet unscheduled retrial in June 2007.

Quizzed by Courant columnist Rick Green, state prosecutors declined to detail their plans for the case other than to say Amero is on their active trial list. In the meantime, the teacher has been hospitalised for stress and rejected for at least one job after a potential employer was put off by her arrest record, the Courant reports.

It remains unclear whether a backlog of serious cases or an unwillingness by prosecutors to admit mistakes in Amero's prosecution is to blame for the continuing delay. But the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied has never been more apposite than in this case. ®

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