Did Incompetent IT Nearly Send Substitute Teacher To Prison?

A Connecticut substitute teacher could go free after being convicted on charges that she exposed her kids to online pornography. She says out-of-control spyware is to blame. If that's true, she took the fall for an incompetent IT department.</p>

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

June 6, 2007

4 Min Read

A Connecticut substitute teacher could go free after being convicted on charges that she exposed her kids to online pornography. She says out-of-control spyware is to blame. If that's true, she took the fall for an incompetent IT department.

A state Superior Court judge granted a new trial for Julie Amero, 40, on Wednesday. The judge said the jury "may have relied, at least in part, on that false information.... (Amero) is entitled to a new trial in the interest of justice," according to a report in the Norwich Bulletin. She had been scheduled to be sentenced today.

Assistant State's Attorney David Smith said the state "would take no position on Dow's motion for a new trial, making it unlikely she will be tried again. Smith also acknowledged that erroneous information about the computer was presented during trial," according to a report in the Hartford Courant.

It's appalling that Amero was charged in this incident. What's even more appalling is that she's apparently not the one to blame. The people who apparently deserve blame are the district's IT managers, who seem to have deployed PCs without adequate spyware protection, and may have had a security policy in place that required people to share logins and passwords just to do her jobs.

Amero, who was pregnant at the time of the 2004 incident, was convicted in January of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child. She faces up to 10 years in prison for each count, according to an earlier report in the Norwich Bulletin.

Several of her seventh-grade students at Norwich's Kelly Middle School testified to seeing pornographic material for several hours Oct. 19, 2004, on her classroom computer. The students, some 12 years old at the time of the incident, told police they had seen images of naked men and women, some having sex.

She claims the porn was a result of pop-up ads that hijacked her computer, and that she tried blocking the computer screen from children's view.

Defense expert witness Herbert Horner supported Amero's account, and said he was never allowed to present at trial.

"I had a two-hour presentation that clearly shows her dilemma was caused by pop-ups," Horner said. "I'm just hoping now the whole thing gets dropped. I think the prosecutor was sandbagged by his expert witness."

Horner expands on his defense of Amero, describing what he found when he examined the classroom computer.

He says the class's regular teacher logged on in the morning because Amero did not have her own user ID and password. That explains why Amero didn't simply shut down the computer when it started going haywire; if she did, she and the students wouldn't have access. Amero retrieved her AOL mail a few minutes later.

Within the next hour, someone logged in to the computer accessed several hairstyle sites. "[B]based upon the hair style images uploaded to the PC we were led to believe that there were students using the computer to search out hair styles," Horner says. I'm not sure what he means by that; I suspect he may mean that the hairstyles were those worn by teen-aged girls, not a grown woman.

The user of the PC then found herself in a predicament common to inexperienced computer users; she was got herself into an infinite loop of proliferating porn popups, Horner says. "Once the aforementioned started, it would be very difficult even for an experienced user to extricate themselves from this situation of porn pop-ups and loops," he says.

Interestingly, Horner finds evidence that nobody was intentionally searching for porn on that PC:

All of the jpg's that we looked at in the internet cache folders were of the 5, 6 and 15 kB size, very small images indeed. Normally, when a person goes to a pornographic website they are interested in the larger pictures of greater resolution and those jpgs would be at least 35 kB and larger. We found no evidence of where this kind of surfing was exercised on October 19, 2004.

Shockingly, he notes that the PC had no firewall, and its anti-virus software was out-of-date.

The blog odd time signatures is following the case.

(Via Boing Boing: "'PC pop-up teacher' Julie Amero sentencing tomorrow (again)" and "PC pop-up case's defense expert reveals prosecutor's incompetence")

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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