Sarah Palin Testifies in E-Mail Hacking Trial

David Kernell, 22, faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.

April 21, 2010, 8:02 AM

April 23, 2010— -- Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, taking the stand this morning in the trial of a former college student accused of breaking into her Yahoo! e-mail account during the 2008 presidential campaign, said the incident caused "disruption" and wasn't "right."

As her husband Todd looked on, Palin told jurors she first discovered her account had been breached when watching a TV news report from the campaign trail in Michigan. The Secret Service and a campaign aide later confirmed it was true, she said.

Palin testified that her "gov.palin" e-mail account and red Blackberry were her primary means of keeping in touch with her family in Alaska as she campaigned as the Republican vice presidential nominee. She said the breach caused a huge "disruption" in her family members' personal and professional lives.

"Friends and family had to change their contacts and e-mails," she told reporters outside the courtroom of the fallout from the hack job. "It's not right, it's not legal, it's not fair and decent...I don't think an illegal action like this was a college prank."

David Kernell, 22, is accused of hacking the account and posting some of the contents online, which, Palin's attorney say was intended to jeopardize the McCain-Palin presidential campaign.

Kernell, the son of a Democratic state representative from Memphis, is charged with identity theft, wire fraud, computer fraud and obstruction of justice. He faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.

Earlier this week Palin's oldest daughter Bristol, whose pregnancy took center stage during the 2008 campaign, testified that she received unsolicited phone calls and text messages, some threatening, after the alleged hacker exposed her cell phone number.

Kernell's attorneys described the incident as a "silly prank." In a federal court in Knoxville, Tenn., Tuesday, they argued 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.

Prosecutors showed jurors copies of e-mails and Internet postings filled with obscene language that were traced back to Kernell.

"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, which is expected to last for several more days. 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.

"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," Knoxville News Sentinel writer Jamie Satterfield said.

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."

ABC News' Huma Khan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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