Teacher in spyware case granted new trial

Judge sets aside guilty verdict in case of substitute teacher whose students were exposed to pornography on classroom computer

A schoolteacher facing jail time after spyware programs exposed her students to pornographic images has been given a reprieve.

Julie Amero had been convicted of four felony counts of "risk of injury to a minor," but on Wednesday, the Connecticut superior court judge in charge of her sentencing set aside a guilty verdict in the case.

The ruling by Judge Hillary Strackbein grants Amero a new trial, but whether that will actually happen was unclear Wednesday. In an interview, Assistant State Attorney David Smith said he had taken "no position" on the defense's motion that triggered the judge's decision to set aside the guilty verdict. Smith declined to comment further on the case because it is still pending.

Amero, formerly a substitute teacher at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Conn., was charged after an Oct. 19, 2004, incident during which a classroom computer exposed Amero's seventh graders to pornographic images. She was facing up to 40 years in prison after her Jan. 5 conviction.

The prosecution had charged that Amero had endangered her students by accessing pornographic images, and the case had become a cause celebre in the antispyware community, which has portrayed her as an innocent victim of a malicious spyware program.

One of Amero's most vocal advocates, Sunbelt Software CEO Alex Eckelberry said in a blog posting he was "very pleased" with the judge's ruling. But he cautioned that "there's still the specter of a new trial and so the show isn't over yet."

Evidence presented at Amero's trial showed that the school's computer was infected with malicious JavaScript code, after a visit to a Web site devoted to hairstyles, according to Eckelberry.

Neither Amero nor her lawyer William Dow could be reached immediately for comment. However, Amero was pleased with the ruling, according to Herb Horner, a computer forensics expert who was hired by Amero's attorney to testify at her trial.

"She's flying high. She may not be out of the woods yet, but at least the verdict is taken away," he said. "This is the best I've seen Julie ... in a long while."

This story was corrected on June 7, 2007

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