David C. Kernell, 22, was convicted by a federal jury in Knoxville, Tenn., today for intentionally accessing without authorization the e-mail account of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and obstruction of justice, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney James R. Dedrick for the Eastern District of Tennessee announced.
After a week-long trial, a jury found Kernell guilty of one count of misdemeanor unauthorized access to obtain information from a computer and one count of obstruction of justice. The jury found Kernell not guilty of wire fraud. The jury could not reach a verdict on the identity theft charge and the judge declared a mistrial as to that charge.
According to evidence presented at trial, on Sept. 16, 2008, Kernell, a resident of Knoxville, obtained unauthorized access to Gov. Palin’s personal e-mail account by resetting the account password. Evidence showed that after answering a series of security questions that allowed him to reset the password and gain access to the e-mail account, Kernell read the contents of the account and made screenshots of the e-mail directory, e-mail content and other personal information. Kernell posted screenshots of the e-mails and other personal information to a public Website. Kernell also posted the new e-mail account password that he had created, thus providing access to the account by others.
Evidence at trial showed that Kernell became aware of a possible FBI investigation on Sept. 16, 2008, following the illegal entry into the e-mail account. The evidence further showed that Kernell began to delete records and documents with the intent to impede an anticipated FBI investigation.
At sentencing, Kernell faces a maximum of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for unauthorized access and 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for obstruction of justice.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krotoski currently detailed to the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Weddle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee. CCIPS Trial Attorney Josh Goldfoot provided significant assistance. The case was investigated by the FBI’s Knoxville field office.