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Smut pop-up teacher case finally resolved with misdemeanor plea

Campaigners vindicated but has justice been served?

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The long-running prosecution of substitute teacher Julie Amero on spyware smut-serving charges finally came to an end on Friday.

Prosecutors agreed to drop four felony charges of endangering minors in exchange for a guilty plea to a lesser misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

The case stems from an incident in 2004 when a PC in Amero's class, later found to be infected with smut-serving malware, displayed pornographic images to her seventh-grade students. The incident at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Connecticut in October 2004 led to charges against the then pregnant substitute teacher.

A jury returned a guilty verdict against Amero at her original trial in January 2007. But the verdict was set aside by the judge in the case, Hillary Strackbein, five months later, clearing the way for a new trial. Last week's plea agreement finally resolves the case but the outcome is still unsatisfactory. Amero may have escaped with a fine of only $100 instead of facing a prison sentence of anything up to 40 years but she's lost her teaching license in Connecticut. The long-running case has also taken a toll on her health, local paper the Hartford Courant reports.

Amero's plight became a cause-celebre in information security circles with Sunbelt Software chief exec Alex Eckelberry among those leading the campaign on her behalf. Supporters argue Amero is an innocent victim of a spyware-infected machine and have fought a long running campaign on her behalf, as explained in a blog posting by Eckelberry here.

Prosecutors criticise her for not acting promptly to shut the machine off when it displayed dodgy images, but that fails to take into account evidence that the teacher knew little about computers or that the school had failed to update the child protection filter software running on her PC. Adding to the perceived injustices of the case defence expert witness W. Herbert Horner has told how he was stopped from presenting key evidence that malware, rather than the prior actions of the teacher, could have explained the offending pop-ups, which came from sites including meetlovers.com.

Local prosecutors refused to admit mistakes had been made in the case despite a wealth of evidence from computer security experts, even after the trial judge ordered a retrial. This bodes ill if something similar ever crops up again. Perhaps it would be well for the voluntary community of security pros that have come together on Amero's behalf stayed in touch. ®

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