April 21, 2010 -- The former college student accused of breaking into Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account during the 2008 presidential campaign is on trial in Tennessee and faces up to 50 years in a federal prison if convicted.
David Kernell, 22, is accused of breaking into the former vice presidential nominee's account and posting some of the contents online, which, Palin's attorney say was intended to jeopardize the McCain-Palin presidential campaign. Kernell's trial began Tuesday and could go for a week and a half, if not longer.
Kernell, the son of a Democratic state representative from Memphis, is charged with identity theft, wire fraud, computer fraud and obstruction of justice.
Today, Palin's oldest daughter Bristol, whose pregnancy took center stage during the 2008 presidential campaign, was at the trial and she is expected to take the stand against the former college student.
Palin herself is on the witness list and is expected to testify this week. Husband Todd Palin may also take the stand.
Kernell's attorneys described the incident as a "silly prank." In a federal court in Knoxville, Tenn., Tuesday, they argued that that their client didn't have a criminal intent, and that he merely guessed his way into her e-mail account.
"It took less time than the prosecution's opening statement," defense attorney Wade Davies said.
Kernell's roommate told jurors that he was in their room that night in September 2008, when Kernell came in excited, claiming he had gained control of a Yahoo e-mail account that belonged to Palin and had figured out the answers to the security questions.
"He definitely talked about how he didn't believe in what she wanted to do," David Omiecinski, Kernell's roommate at the University of Tennessee, said, although adding that Kernell said nothing about hurting Palin.
Kernell shared Palin's private information with the world, including a cell phone number that belonged to her daughter, Bristol, according to prosecutors. He was arrested in October 2008.
Kernell's roommate said the defendant bragged openly about what he did. But Davies told jurors that his client didn't attempt to get rid of any evidence on his laptop and that he cried when he found out that the FBI was investigating him.
"He really couldn't have done more to let people know what he had done than he did," Davies said.
Palin's family friend Ivey Frye told jurors that the hacker sent "vile" and "vulgar" e-mails to Palin's children and other relatives and friends, and that all their e-mail addresses were exposed.
Student Who Hacked Into Sarah Palin's E-Mail Goes on Trial
Kernell could face a difficult trial. Besides the fact that his father, Mike Kernell, is a lifelong Democrat, what also hurts Kernell's case is that he lives in "Palin Country," where the former Alaska governor is hugely popular.
"It will be interesting to see how she presents herself on the witness stand," Knoxville News Sentinel writer Jamie Satterfield said. "The defense is in a position where I don't think they can beat up on her too much. People are crazy about her here."
The former governor's attorneys said the hacking and subsequent posting of personal information online was extremely disruptive.
"This was an invasion of privacy," attorney Thomas V. Van Flein said. "It was a disruption for the campaign and it was actually disruptive to her ability to communicate with her staff in Alaska."
In her memoir, "Going Rogue," Palin described Kernell as a creep who was bent on ruining her campaign.
"I was horrified to realize that millions of people could read my personal messages," she wrote. "All kinds of sensitive discussions, including political ones, the kind of unguarded talk you only have with the people who are closest to you and don't take what you say out of context."