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Palin email witness decries 'dog and pony' prosecution

When throwing the book backfires

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A witness who testified against the man accused of breaching Sarah Palin's Yahoo! Mail account has criticized federal prosecutors for distorting the facts in an attempt to score legal points.

Gabriel Ramuglia said the episode left him so disenchanted that he's changing the logging policy for Ctunnel.com, the anonymity proxy used to access Palin's Yahoo account while she was running for vice president in 2008. Before, he collected the IP address of each user along with the time and address of each web visit and stored it for seven days. Now, he logs the minimum required by law.

Ramuglia said he's taking the step because he believes prosecutors exaggerated entries in the log information when presenting it to the jury in the case. On several occasions, he said assistant US attorneys told him privately they wanted to "show as much commerce as possible" by emphasizing connections his proxy made to ad servers, even though his site almost always filters out their content.

Based on the evidence in Ctunnel logs, Ramuglia said, he believes Kernell "should have got in some trouble." But he went on to say that he believes prosecutors are attempting to win enhancements to Kernell's potential sentence by ginning up findings that the breach disrupted interstate commerce.

"My objection is that they seem to be more interested in getting a maximum sentence than with prosecuting what actually happened," Ramuglia, 26, told The Register on Tuesday. "They really don't need to try to get 50 years on this by drumming up all these other irrelevant charges."

Ramuglia testified last Wednesday in the trial of 22-year-old David C. Kernell, who is charged with four felonies for allegedly breaking in to the Palin account. Kernell has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorney has insisted there was no criminal intent in the intrusion and during closing arguments told jurors: "not every choice we make at age 20 defines who we are."

The jury began deliberating on Tuesday after a week of testimony.

When FBI agents contacted Ramuglia in September 2008, the webmaster and entrepreneur said he was happy to turn over the logs showing the IP address of the person who accessed Palin's account without access. He said it was only recently that he learned that if Kernell is convicted on all four charges, he faces a maximum sentence of about 50 years. (Legal experts say based on the facts, he would probably get much less).

After objecting to prosecutors' court tactics, Ramugila said that Ctunnel will no longer proactively log any information at all on servers located in the US. In the UK, in keeping with laws there, he will store information for 48 hours. He said he may still narrowly log on a case-by-case basis, say, in instances where a user repeatedly abuses his terms of service.

US attorneys handling the case couldn't be reached for comment. In their defense, it should be noted that it's not unusual for attorneys on either side to emphasize facts that are favorable to their side, and there's nothing in Ramuglia's account that suggests any wrongdoing on the part of prosecutors. It's also unclear what sentence prosecutors will seek should Kernell be found guilty.

Still, it says something about the nation's uneven sentencing guidelines when someone like Ramuglia says he's no longer willing to serve as a witness for prosecutors, even in cases where he believes an offense has occurred.

"I would rather not have anything useful to provide to law enforcement and him get away with it than them put on this dog and pony show and try to get him put away for the rest of his life," he said. "It's just wrong. To the extent I can legally do so, I'm not going to be a part of it." ®

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