Jury Deadlocked Over Charge in Palin E-mail Trial

The federal jury deliberating the fate of the man who allegedly accessed former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's e-mail account in 2008 is deadlocked on one of the four charges, according to a Knoxville newspaper.

Federal prosecutors have charged former University of Tennessee student David C. Kernell, now 22, with breaking into Palin's Yahoo Mail account during the 2008 presidential campaign. At the time, Palin was the Republican vice presidential candidate.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported this afternoon that the jury, which is in its third day of deliberations, has deadlocked on the first count, a charge of identity theft.

The jury has reached a verdict on the other three charges -- wire fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and destruction of records to hamper a federal investigation. All but the unlawfully accessing count are felonies under federal law.

Jurors sent a message to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Phillips earlier today telling him: "Some of us feel not all jurors are following the jury instruction."

During its morning session, the jury asked Phillips for a copy of the federal law related to identity theft, the newspaper said. Philips provided a copy with some sections blacked out.

Kernell was indicted by a federal grand jury on a single count of accessing a computer without authorization in October 2008, a month after he allegedly broke into Palin's Yahoo Mail account. At the time, authorities said Kernell had used Yahoo's password reset mechanism to gain access of Palin's account.

In February 2009, the remaining three charges were filed against Kernell.

According to prosecutors, Kernell used the moniker "rubico" when he posted images of Palin's messages to an online message board. He allegedly bragged that it took him only 45 minutes to do the online research needed to reset Palin's password.

Internet sleuths had pointed to Kernell as the likely hacker within days of the event, based on evidence such as the IP address of the machine that used an Athens, Ga.-based proxy service to mask its identity.

Kernell's trial started April 20, but the jury began deliberating last Tuesday afternoon. Although both Palin and her daughter, Bristol, testified for the prosecution last week, Kernell did not take the stand in his own defense.

David Kernell is the son of Mike Kernell, a longtime Democratic state legislator from Memphis.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about cybercrime and hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Knowledge Center.

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