April 30, 2010 -- The former college student accused of breaking into Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account during the 2008 presidential campaign was found guilty today on two of the four charges against him, one of them a felony.
A federal jury in Kentucky found David Kernell, 22, guilty of obstruction of justice and unauthorized access of a computer and obtaining information illegally. He was found not guilty on a charge of wire fraud, and the jury was deadlocked on the charge of identity theft. Prosecutors say they'll try him again on that charge.
The jury deliberated for four days before reaching a conclusion on three charges.
Kernell, the son of a Democratic state representative from Memphis, could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison just on the obstruction charge.
Palin praised the verdict on her Facebook page, drawing a parallel between the hacking of her e-mail and the Watergate scandal that took down a presidency.
"Besides the obvious invasion of privacy and security concerns surrounding this issue, many of us are concerned about the integrity of our country's political elections," said Palin on Facebook. "As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates' private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election."
In a short statement, Kernell's attorney today said the former student is doing well, is appreciative of his family's support and is "grateful for the time and consideration the jury gave to his case."
Defense attorney Wade Davies, however, did not say whether the defendant plans to appeal.
"Because the case is still pending, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time," Davies said in the statement.
Kernell was accused of breaking into the former vice presidential nominee's account and posting some of the contents online, which, Palin's attorney said was intended to jeopardize the McCain-Palin presidential campaign.
Kernell's attorneys described the incident as a "silly prank." In a federal court in Knoxville, Tenn., last week, 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," Davies told jurors.
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 Charges on Two Accounts
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."