Anyone who was beyond infancy in the mid-1990’s can remember the OJ Simpson murder trial. Dominating the news and broadcast into every home, it was everywhere. The image of Simpson trying on the leather glove and shaking his head was purposefully burned into our brains. Later, during the closing arguments, Johnny Cochran, one of Simpson’s defense attorneys, uttered the now immortal, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.” This was the age of the physical, tangible evidence. Criminals were convicted or let loose because of knives, gloves and blood stains.
Fast-forward 15 years. Now, criminals are being accused of and convicted of crimes because of the astonishingly powerful and increasingly versatile personal computer. Police and authorities are finding more and more ways to prove criminal activity simply by analyzing the contents of digitized information recovered from the computer of the accused. These are the top fifteen criminals who perhaps wished that they had lived in simpler times, when the cops needed to get physical (evidence) to put them behind bars.
A former Marist College professor, James Kent was convicted on charges of possession of child pornography and promoting a sexual performance by a child. On April 5, 2007, Kent complained that his office computer was not performing correctly, and sent it in to the Campus technology department to have it scanned for a virus. Instead of finding a virus, the technicians found a folder containing a large number of photographs of very young girls, scantily clad, performing various sex acts. The Department turned the computer over to the police, who promptly arrested Kent. He was found guilty of more than 130 felonies and sentenced to three years in prison.
Scott Newcomb of Boulder, Colorado, needs to learn when to keep something to himself. Newcomb was using his laptop in public when he drew a crowd. A police officer passing by heard one of the onlookers ask, “Isn’t that [expletive] illegal?” and quickly confiscated the computer. Littered with hundreds of images of child pornography, the computer gave investigators enough evidence to quickly arrest Newcomb. By the time the scan of the computer was complete, Newcomb had already been jailed on a sexual assault charge that was eventually dismissed. However, while in jail, he struck a police officer. The combination of the child pornography and assault on a police officer charges earned him 16 years in jail. Maybe next time he shouldn’t look at his kiddie porn within earshot of walking policemen. Come to think of it, he shouldn’t do it at all.
A priest with child porn? Never! English clergyman Dominic Stone downloaded hundreds of pornographic images of children while working at his vicarage. While he wasn’t sentenced to any jail time, he was ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years, and will not be allowed to work in Ministry for the remainder of his life. Stone tried to argue that someone else may have used his computer to download the images without his knowledge, but the only other person who had access to the computer was his wife. Not helping his case, it was proven that at the time of the downloads, there was also legitimate work being performed. Not only can investigators check the files on a computer, they can also see when files were added or edited, much like a doctor’s ability to determine the time of death of a corpse.
James M. Cameron
Listen, if you trade kiddie porn online, it’s just a matter of time before you get caught. Cameron was working as the top drug prosecutor in the Maine Attorney General’s office when one day, federal agents showed up at his house with search warrants for the four computers inside. Yahoo had reported finding child pornography in the photos of an account holder that would later be identified as Cameron’s wife. They also found 17 user profiles on Yahoo that sent and received child pornography, all of them originating from the computers in Cameron’s home. Talk about a career killer.
Urbain Morelli wanted to install a high speed Internet system at his house. When the technician came over, he noticed that there was a tripod and a web cam pointed at Morelli’s three year old daughter, and that there were also folders on Morelli’s computer labeled “Lolita Porn.” The technician, however, returned the next day to find that the camera had been moved to a less incriminating position. The technician reported the incident and a search warrant was obtained to search Morelli’s home. As expected, child pornography was found on the computer. However, Morelli later won a (Canadian) Supreme Court appeal in the case, arguing that there was not sufficient cause for the search warrant in the first place. Not sufficient cause? Did the judge not get the Lolita reference? You don’t need more cause than a folder named after literature’s most famous child molester to be suspicious.
Vernor P. Gumila
When you deal in child porn, it’s probably best to fly solo. Vernor Gumila, 41 was arrested for possession of child pornography after authorities obtained a warrant to search his roommate’s computer. While the police were in the house, they asked if they could also search Gumila’s computer. Gumila consented, and after finding images on his computer as well, he was arrested. It is unclear as to whether Gumila consented with confidence, hoping that they simply wouldn’t find anything, or if he did so hesitatingly. He was probably unsure as to whether it was legal for the authorities to search his computer. It is when you give consent.
Downloading media from the Internet arguably became most popular with the arrival of Napster, where one could download completely free music from any person connected the service who was willing to share. Other person-to-person (p2p) programs soon followed, such as LimeWire and Share Bear. Nathaniel Solon apparently used this p2p network to illegally download music, video games, and later, child pornography. He was discovered by the Internet Crimes Against Children Agency, who found that not only was he downloading such files, but distributing them as well. Apparently, child pornography criminals are not well received in prison. After being the recipient of several beatings, he was moved to solitary confinement for his own protection.
Our least tech-savvy perv, so far, is Lyndon Humbracht. He decided that sending naked pictures of children as an email attachment was a good idea. This prompted authorities to visit his home, where he admitted to possessing child pornography. Technicians searched his computer and found “numerous” child pornography images and movies on compact discs. Humbrecht put up no fight, knowing that he was guilty, but also because he’s 67 years old and may just be tired of putting up a fuss about anything at all these days.
Calvin E. Hoke III
With a name like Calvin E. Hoke III, it’s surprising to find that he’s a convicted child molester. He sounds like he should be riding a horse, swinging a polo stick, and sipping iced tea from extremely tall and skinny glasses. Instead, Hoke was arrested in 2009 on charges of child molestation. He was allegedly found placing his hand over the private area of a young girl. When police came to his house, they found thousands of photographs of child pornography. It makes sense, of course, that a child molester would also delve into pornography, it’s just that usually the people who look at child pornography are weak and scared men who don’t have it in them commit physical crimes. Hoke, it seems, is one special animal.
You can’t always trust your principal, even though you’d like to. John Stelmack proves this to be the case. This man is weird. He didn’t think that child pornography was sick enough, so he decided to step it up and make it weirder – and sicker. He took two photos of girls from his school and superimposed their faces onto the bodies of pictures of other nude women, to make is appear as if the girls were in lewd poses. Leave it to technology to make up a new crime. However, the courts ruled that what Stelmack did was, remarkably, not a crime. Because the images of the nude bodies were adult, and only the faces that were superimposed on top were minors, Stelmack violated no law, and apparently committed no crime. Stories like this makes one wonder what laws should be enacted that aren’t already in place. Technology, it seems, is moving faster than lawmakers can.
While an alarming amount of cases in computer crimes are related to child pornography, there are (thankfully) other uses for convicting criminals using their computer. Four years after his wife’s death, Matt Baker was convicted of murder and sentenced to 65 years in prison. His wife had apparently committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills and had even left a suicide note. It was later revealed, after analysis of Baker’s computer, that he had typed in “overdosing on sleeping pills” into a search engine, and had visited several pharmaceutical websites prior to his wife’s death. Can people really be this dumb? Yes. (Oh, and also, they searched his computer and found that he had also been looking at several fetish pornography sites, which was used to determine his character in court. Is there be a computer data recovery case that doesn’t involve porn?)
A signalman aboard the USS Benfold who was honorably discharged from the US Navy in 2002, Hassan Abu-Jihaad, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking details about ship movements to a London-based Web site operator that supported attacking Americans. In 1997, Abu-Jihaad changed his name from Paul Raphael Hall to Hassan Abu-Jihaad, which translates to Hassan “Father of Jihad.” His conviction and 10 year sentence was appealed, but the conviction was upheld when a three-judge panel determined that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was constitutional and was used properly in obtaining the necessary evidence for the conviction. It would be easier to argue a violation of personal rights if the crime involved didn’t compromise national security. If only he had told the operator what the galley was making for breakfast, or how pretty the ocean was, things might have gone differently.
Sometimes a criminal will use his or her computer in a suspicious manner, and that act alone will lead to a conviction. In some cases, the computer can lead police to traditional, hard evidence. Such is the case for Krenar Lusha of the United Kingdom. It was uncovered after searching his laptop that he had downloaded extensive instructions of the making of explosives and suicide belts. This prompted officers to arrest him, and after searching his apartment, they found 71.8 liters of petrol, potassium nitrate and a live shotgun cartridge, along with 4300 GB of memory that included instructions on how to use the various bomb-making ingredients that the police had uncovered. It also doesn’t help that Lusha would also live chat with people abroad (via MSN), and would describe himself as a terrorist, or that he had been a sniper, or that he loved to see Jewish people and American people killed. These conversations were retrieved from his computer.
The youngest terrorist in the UK to be convicted of a bomb plot, Hammaad Munsi was arrested after returning from a trip to Pakistan. Police confiscated his luggage and found a laptop inside that contained a “encyclopedia of terrorist instruction,” among which were details on how to make a home-made firearm. Munsi also was carrying ball bearings on him at the time of the arrest, the weapon of choice for suicide bombers. Though he is very young, he was an active member of a terrorist group, and being web-savvy, was responsible for hosting a Web site that posted terrorist related materials. In the age of the computer, it comes as no surprise that someone so young would be involved in crimes proven by a digital evidence.
A major terrorist plot was stopped with the case of Dihren Barot, who proposed a series of coordinated attacks in the UK. The plan called for detonating a dirty bomb, attacking a train, and packing “three limousines with gas cylinders and explosives before setting them off in underground parks.” It was largely the recovery of the computers that Barot and his associates were using that led to their conviction, using advents of computer forensics. All in all, over 300 computers were confiscated and analyzed, and using the data from those computers, hundreds (if not thousands) of lives were saved.