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Prison time for email threats

The first Net user found guilty of an online hate crime is sentenced to a year in prison for sending death threats by email to 59 Asian college students.

The first Net user found guilty of an online hate crime--where death threats were sent by email to 59 Asian university students--was sentenced to one year in prison today, time that already has been served.

A jury convicted former University of California at Irvine student Richard Machado, 21, on two counts of federal civil rights violations in February.

In 1996, Machado was accused of sending an email to a group of fellow students, most of whom were Asian, threatening to "...make it my life career to find and kill every one of you personally." The email, sent from a campus computer, allegedly was signed "Asian Hater."

The verdict validated the prosecution's argument that sending threats via the Net is the same as doing it over a phone or through the regular mail.

Initially, Machado was charged with ten counts of civil rights law violations, but his first trial ended in mistrial after the jury deadlocked. After the second jury found him guilty, Machado faced a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.

Today, U.S. District Judge Alicemarie Stotler sentenced Machado, who has been detained since February 1997, to time served.

The judge did not order Machado pay the steep fine nor did she grant the prosecution's request that Machado be cut off from the Net, his public defender, Sylvia Torres-Guillen, said today.

"The court didn't impose the outrageous condition the government had asked for, which was that Richard Machado not be allowed to use a computer, modem, online service, cell phone, or TV with Internet or Web [access], and that he not send any unsolicited email to any recipient," Torres-Guillen added.

Machado's defense team had argued that the email was a "stupid prank" and that so-called flames, or abusive messages, are commonplace within Internet culture and discussions.

But during the six-day trial in Santa Monica, California, the prosecution maintained that the culture of the Net did not make it a safe haven from federal laws. Furthermore, the government charged that Machado posed a serious threat to those he emailed because he allegedly resented their academic status. He had been reportedly been dismissed from U.C. Irvine for poor grades just prior to sending the threat from a campus computer.

"Making racially motivated death threats--whether over the phone, via the mail, or on the Internet--is a federal offense that can bring stiff penalties," Nora Manella, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement.

Manella added her office currently is investigating allegations of a similar offense at California State University at Los Angeles.