Computer Forensics: Teacher is Innocent, Despite Misdemeanor Plea
- Sloppy work destroys a woman's reputation and livelihood. Ouch.
Proof: Porn Pop-Up Teacher is Innocent, Despite Misdemeanor Plea
By Ryan Singel November 24, 2008 | 8:22:01 P
Accused of letting impressionable students see pornographic pictures
as she browsed the web in her classroom, former Connecticut school
teacher Julie Amero dodged felony charges last Friday by agreeing to
plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and surrendering her state
teaching credentials, according to the Hartford Courant.
But if a soon-to-be released forensic report (.pdf) about her hard
drive is accurate, Amero's guilty plea is hardly justice -- since the
school computer had adware, the anti-virus software on the computer
had been discontinued, and the technical testimony at her trial was
amateurish and flawed.
Amero, a substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, was arrested
after students in her class reported that they'd seen pornographic
images on her computer screen on Oct. 19, 2004. Amero said the
computer wouldn't stop sending pop-ups and that she didn't know what
to do with the computer.
In January 2007, she was convicted of four felony pornography charges
and faced up to 40 years in prison.
Computer security experts, including Alex Eckelberry of Sunbelt
Software, read about the case and immediately suspected Amero was the
victim of rogue software and an overzealous prosecutor. He and a crack
team of computer forensic experts examined the hard drive for the
defense on a pro-bono basis.
Based on their March 2007 report, the judge in the case set aside the
conviction in June 2007 essentially granting Amero a new trial and
raising hopes the prosecution would drop the case.
Threat Level received an advance copy of the report, which hasn't been
Among its findings:
* The school's IT manager told the jury that the anti-virus
software had been updated with new virus definitions in early October,
just days before the incident. But according to the system's antivirus
update log, signatures were last updated on Aug. 31, 2004 . Those
signatures were from June 30, 2004, which was the last update Computer
Associates ever made for that product.
* The computer had no anti-spyware or firewall software. It also
lacked any pop-up blocking technology.
* On Oct. 12, 2004, an adware program, newdotnet, was installed
onto the system, likely at the same time someone installed a 'free'
Halloween screen saver. The IT manager told the jury he didn't know if
adware or spyware was on the computer, and the police's forensic
investigator falsely told them that there was no evidence of
uncontrollable pop-ups. In fact, the forensic report found pages that
reloaded more than 20 times in a second.
* The jury was told that one adult web page had a red link on it,
indicating that Amero had clicked on it. In fact, the computer she was
using turned visited links a green color and the HTML on the web page
specified that link be red for every visitor.
Prosecutors argued that Amero should have shut off the computer and by
not doing so, endangered her charges at the Kelly Middle School.
Eckelberry, who led the tech team on Amero's behalf, said in a blog
post that Amero wasn't in condition to endure another trial.
Amero pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge and has to pay