More charges in Palin email hacking case

March 9, 2009 12:04:49 PM PDT
Three more federal charges have been filed against a University of Tennessee student charged with hacking into the personal e-mail account of Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor and former Republican vice presidential nominee. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

David Kernell, the son of a Democratic Tennessee legislator, pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday, and a magistrate agreed to push back his trial from May to October.

Kernell allegedly gained access to Palin's account in September by correctly answering a series of personal security questions.

The added counts are fraud, unlawful electronic transmission of material outside Tennessee and attempts to conceal records to impede an FBI investigation.

"The facts of the case have not changed, only the theories of law the government is pursuing have changed," defense attorney Wade Davies said. He plans to seek dismissal of the new charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Weddle did not immediately return a call for comment on the new charges.

The initial charge of intentionally accessing Palin's account without authorization, unsealed in October, carried a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Davies contended it should have been a misdemeanor.

Following the original indictment, Kernell pleaded not guilty and was released on several conditions, including staying away from his computer except for school work.

The superseding indictment, filed Feb. 3, included the original charge and the three additional ones.

Both the original and the superseding indictments said Kernell tapped into the Alaska governor's widely publicized Yahoo! e-mail account, reset the password and was able to read the contents, make screenshots and post his exploits on the Web using the nickname "rubico." The indictment said at least one other person followed a similar path into Palin's account.

Kernell is the son of longtime state Rep. Mike Kernell of Memphis, chairman of Tennessee's House Government Operations Committee.

In court filings, Davies has questioned whether a search warrant for Kernell's apartment authorized investigators to confiscate his laptop and review its contents. Prosecutors responded that "the seizure of the defendant's computer had many justifications."

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