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Felony charges dropped against teacher in porn/spyware case

Connecticut officials may seek another trial after felony charges are dropped against a teacher accused of showing Internet porn to students in class, despite evidence the culprit was spyware.

A Connecticut substitute teacher arrested four years ago for allegedly showing students porn on a classroom computer has been cleared of the felony charges--for now--after experts pointed the finger at spyware.

Julie Amero, 41, agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, pay a $100 fine, and surrendered her teaching license, according to the Hartford Courant. The ordeal left her hospitalized for stress and heart problems, the report said.

The Superior Court judge in Norwich on Friday tossed out the charges that she had endangered children by intentionally causing "pop-up" pornography to display on her computer and ordered a new trial after computer forensics experts presented evidence about the spyware. Judge Hillary B. Strackbein said the conviction was based on "erroneous" and "false information."

Despite the expert evidence, and the fact that state prosecutors never conducted a forensic examination of the hard drive, New London County State's Attorney Michael Regan said he remained convinced of Amero's guilt and was prepared to take the case to trial again.

The security expert who led a team of forensic volunteers in the case is outraged that officials are dismissing the evidence about the dangers of spyware.

"Regan's pronouncement of his certainty of her guilt speaks to his ignorance and unwillingness to learn the facts of this case, and the facts of what PC viruses can do to a computer and, in some cases, a life," Alex Eckelberry, chief executive of security firm Sunbelt Software, wrote on The Julie Blog, a site spawned by the Amero case and which is focused on seeking fairness in the intersection of law and technology.

"All of our forensic investigators felt it was a complete miscarriage. It was clear she was absolutely innocent," he told the Hartford Courant. "The mistakes and misinformation that occurred in that courtroom were astounding."

Amero suffered because the school system failed to keep the computer updated with software to block the pornography, experts said.

The case serves as an important lesson for everyone--use antivirus, antispyware, and other security software and update it regularly.

(Via Brian Krebs' Security Fix blog at The Washington Post.)