Palin set to take stand in Tenn. hacking trial

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Jurors in the trial of a former college student charged with hacking Sarah Palin’s e-mail account in 2008 heard testimony Tuesday that the accused man didn’t believe in what Palin wanted to do when she was the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Palin has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial of 22-year-old David Kernell, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Weddle said in court for the first time that Palin’s husband, Todd Palin, and their daughter, Bristol, are also potential witnesses in the trial that could last a week or longer.

Kernell’s attorney told a federal jury that his client had no criminal intent and guessed his way into Palin’s personal e-mail.

However, Kernell’s former college roommate gave his testimony to open the trial.

“He definitely talked about how he didn’t believe in what she wanted to do,” David Omiecinski, Kernell’s former University of Tennessee roommate, testified as the chief prosecutor used video monitors to show jurors copies of the e-mail and obscenity-laced Internet postings traced to Kernell.

Omiecinski, the first government witness, said Kernell never said anything about wanting to hurt the former Alaska governor and 2008 running mate of presidential candidate John McCain.

Omiecinski said he and others were having a party in Kernell’s absence at their apartment days later when FBI agents seized Kernell’s laptop. He said Kernell afterward always told him to tell the truth about what happened.

Defense attorney Wade Davies said Kernell’s actions were a prank and that he tried to brag about it afterward and respond to Internet messages that accused him of lying. Davies said Kernell openly left an online trail to himself that the government has mixed into four felony charges. Davies said Kernell never tried to destroy any evidence on his laptop and that he was crying when called the FBI after learning of the investigation.

“He really couldn’t have done more to let people know what he had done than he did,” Davies said.

Kernell is accused of accessing Palin’s Yahoo! e-mail account by answering a series of personal security questions, resetting the password to “popcorn,” making screen shots and posting the contents online using the nickname “rubico.”

The McCain campaign in 2008 described the e-mail intrusion as a “shocking invasion of the governor’s privacy and a violation of law.”

Prosecutors have not said when Palin or any other witnesses will take the stand.

Pre-trial maneuvering by the defense showed concern that some jurors in heavily Republican East Tennessee could be dazzled when the conservative star testifies.

Kernell was a 20-year-old college student majoring in economics when prosecutors say he hacked into the Yahoo! account Palin sometimes used for state business.

A prosecutor told jurors that Kernell had hoped to derail the campaign for vice president.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips denied pre-trial defense motions to have prospective jurors answer a questionnaire asking if they have strong political feelings about Palin. Kernell’s attorney, Wade Davies, cited Palin’s speaking slot at a tea party movement convention and frequent television appearances.

Convictions on all four felony charges — identity theft, wire fraud, intentionally accessing Palin’s e-mail account without authorization and obstructing an FBI investigation — could send Kernell to prison for up to 50 years.

“If I was the individual being charged I would be concerned, particularly the other party,” East Tennessee State University political analyst David Briley said. “Politics and religion are pretty close to the vest here.”

Kernell’s father, Democratic Rep. Mike Kernell of Memphis, has served in the Tennessee House since 1974. He has not been linked to the case against his son, and he declined to be interviewed Monday.

An attorney for Palin, Thomas Van Flein of Anchorage, Alaska, has said in an e-mail that Palin has been subpoenaed and she will honor that commitment. Van Flein declined to comment about the case or about how Palin feels about it.

Kernell, who has been free on bond since pleading not guilty, sat with his attorneys in court, wearing a dark suit.