KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The son of a Democratic Tennessee lawmaker was convicted Friday on two charges in the hacking of Sarah Palin’s e-mail account while she campaigned on the Republican presidential ticket in 2008.
The federal court jury reached its verdict against David Kernell, 22, after four days of deliberation. He was found guilty of obstruction of justice and unauthorized access to a computer, but was acquitted on a charge of wire fraud.
The jury deadlocked on a charge of identify theft. Prosecutors reserve the right to have a new trial on that charge. The charge of obstructing an investigation carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence and unauthorized access to a computer is a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips did not immediately set a sentencing date.
Kernell’s defense attorney maintained the hack amounted to college prank, not a crime. Kernell was a student at the University of Tennessee at the time. Prosecutors argued it was a more serious effort to damage Palin’s political campaign.
Knoxville Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Weddle, the chief prosecutor in the case, said they had not decided whether to try Kernell again on the identity theft charge.
Palin and her daughter Bristol testified about harassment and disruption they suffered after some e-mail was posted online showing personal cell phone numbers.
The former Alaska governor posted a statement on her Facebook page, saying she and her family “are thankful that the jury thoroughly and carefully weighed the evidence and issued a just verdict.”
“As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates’ private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election,” the statement said.
Jurors were told by the judge not to speak to the media and they declined comment as they left courthouse. Kernell, his mother and defense attorney Wade Davies also declined comment as they walked away.
Davies said in a statement released afterward that Kernell is doing well, appreciates the support of family and friends and is “grateful for the time and consideration the jury gave to his case.” Davies said further comment would be inappropriate with the case still pending.
Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press on Friday.
The prosecution case enlivened dull testimony about the intricacies of e-mail and the Internet with star power, including the Palins and mention of local sports hero Peyton Manning.
Technical testimony recounted how investigators traced the break-in to Kernell, who was never accused of the harassing calls and texts.
Sarah Palin was the most anticipated witness and she smiled through 30 minutes of testimony last Friday about how disruptive and hurtful the posting had been. Some jurors smiled at her as well.
Outside the courtroom she wouldn’t say whether the charges against Kernell were excessive or whether a conviction should bring prison time.
“I do think there should be consequences for bad behavior,” she told the dozens of reporters covering the trial.
Todd Palin also appeared at the trial but didn’t take the witness stand.