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Palin email hacker gets 366 days in custody

Prison or halfway house

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The former Tennessee college student convicted of hacking into Sarah Palin's Yahoo Mail account was sentenced on Friday to 366 days in either federal prison or a halfway house.

David Kernell smiled as the sentence was delivered in US District Court in Knoxville, according to news reports. He faced a maximum of 20 years in custody, and federal prosecutors had been seeking 18 months imprisonment. Defense attorneys had asked for probation with no time served in prison. He was also sentenced to three years of probation.

In April, Kernell was found guilty of one misdemeanor count of computer intrusion and a felony count of obstruction of justice. A jury acquitted him of a separate charge of wire fraud and deadlocked on a fourth charge for identity theft.

In September 2008, Kernell used publicly available information to break in to the account of Palin, who at the time was the Republican vice presidential candidate. After looking up her zip code and other information online, he reset her password and posted a smattering of pictures and other contents to 4chan.org. The content was later reposted to Wikileaks.

US District Judge Thomas W. Phillips sentenced Kernell to one year and one day in custody and recommended that time be served in a halfway house. It will be up to officials at the Bureau of Prisons to decide whether that recommendation is carried out or whether Kernell will instead go to prison.

The son of a Democratic Tennessee state legislator, Kernell admitted to deleting some computer files after the hack because he was worried they would incriminate him. He also defragmented his hard drive and deleted temporary internet files to cover his tracks.

His attorneys asked the court for leniency, arguing that he allowed much of the data on his machine to be preserved. They also characterized the offense as more of a prank than a crime.

Kernell was permitted to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons at a later date, according to news reports. ®

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