The Julie Amero case, part II: May the farce be with you

Even Cringe blows one occasionally -- like maligning a computer expert who was only trying to help a school teacher escape a wrongful felony conviction. Read on for yet more Kafkaesque details of the Amero case.

The Julie Amero case has stirred up a lot of emotions, including some from Cringe readers who feel I was less than fair in my description of the expert witness hired by Amero's attorney, Herb Horner. You know what? They're right.

My information came from a single source who declined to speak on the record. His main point was that though Horner had impressive credentials as a computer expert, he wasn't a licensed forensic investigator in a case that desperately needed one.

I never contacted Horner himself. It was strictly "type first, think later" journalism.

Bad Cringe, no more Little Debbie snack cakes for you.

J. S. writes:

Robert, you really need to check your facts here about Herb Horner. He is hardly “little more than a guy who played with computers” (he operates a computer consulting firm) and was hardly “shredded on the stand” (most of his prospective testimony was barred by the trial judge).... Herb may not be as sophisticated in his knowledge as some of these very best in their field, but your characterization of him was entirely inappropriate, unfair, and way off-base.

G. M. weighs in as well:

... while Herb may not be a professional computer forensics expert, his 35+ years in his profession gives him more credibility than anyone else in this case. His inability to present his expert testimony was strictly an issue of the defense attorney's failure to disclose Herb's finding during pre-trial evidence discovery procedures.

I contacted Horner via e-mail and asked for his side of the story. He told me he had intended to bring laptops into the courtroom to re-create the pop-up porn storm that engulfed Julie Amero on the morning of Oct. 19, 2004. But the court would not give him unfettered access to the Net, and prosecutor David Smith objected to the introduction of evidence he was unfamiliar with. Horner writes:

I arrived at the court house with two laptops. Smith was not happy when he realized what I was going to do. I started the presentation in the form of a narrative, and Smith objected, stating he did not know of the malware defense that I had prepared.... I mentioned to the judge that I would give Smith everything I had. A milk crate full of Microsoft documentation on how the Internet Explorer worked. The file layouts of Internet cache. A copy of the programs I used and the reports.... The judge refused and mentioned that there was no time for that, now the trial must go on.... So with that I was only able to show a couple of slides to indicate what happened. One of most important things that happened here is that there was a REDIRECT to the initial porn hair site. I still stand by that.

Horner adds that he later met with talked to the computer forensics examiner for the state of Connecticut -- not Detective Mark Lounsbury, the prosecution's expert witness -- shortly before the June 2007 hearing during which Judge Hillary Strackbein set aside Amero's conviction and ordered a new trial. He writes:

I asked if he did the exam on Julie's case. He mentioned he did the exam. He had come to the same conclusion that both I and the defense team did....The bottom line: If the state used the forensic examiner and not Lounsbury it would have been readily apparent that Julie was not surfing for porn.

There's a lot more to this story. Why didn't the state forensic expert testify? Why wasn't Horner allowed to show all of his evidence? Are all the school districts and court systems in America as FUBAR'd as the ones in Norwich, Conn., seem to be? (Judging by the comments to my earlier stories on this case, here and here, the sad answer appears to be Yes, they are.)

Stay tuned for more news as this story continues to develop. And check out the interview with Julie Amero by Robert McMillan of IDG News. It's worth a read.

UPDATE: Horner writes in again to add this clarification:

The state forensic examiner was not asked to testify at the original trial. He was not involved at that point....It was after the conviction and when the new defense team presented their evidence that he got involved just before the June 2007 court appearance when the conviction was overturned.

Got more insight into the Amero farce? Post it below or e-mail me direct: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

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