Court reinstates guilty verdict on computer saboteur

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia Monday reinstated the guilty verdict in the case of a former network administrator who had been convicted in May 2000 in the first prosecution of computer sabotage.

Tim Lloyd of Wilmington, Del., now faces sentencing and up to 5 years in federal prison.

Lloyd was found guilty of planting a software time bomb in a centralized file server at Omega Engineering Corp.'s Bridgeport, N.J., manufacturing plant. The malicious software code destroyed the programs that ran the company's manufacturing machines, costing Omega more than US$10 million in losses and $2 million in reprogramming costs, and eventually leading to 80 layoffs.

Soon after the jury rendered a guilty verdict in a U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., The Hon. William H. Walls, who presided over the four-week trial, set aside the decision. He did so after a juror who heard the case approached the court with concerns days after the guilty verdict had been handed in. The juror told Walls she was unsure whether a television news story about the Love Bug computer virus had been factored into her verdict, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O'Malley, who prosecuted the case.

"Although she couldn't articulate what impact it had, she simply made the statement that she was unsure about whether it was important to bring to the court's attention," O'Malley said in a previous interview.

In its written decision, the appellate court found that the media report of the Love Bug was "totally unrelated" to the Lloyd case, the juror had not received the information improperly and the government's "heavy volume of incriminating evidence" made the Love Bug information irrelevant to the jury's decision. The appellate court stated that the "District Court abused its discretion in granting a new trial."

The Lloyd case was the first federal criminal prosecution of computer sabotage. Industry observers had hailed the conviction as a precedent-setting victory, proving that the government is capable of tracking down and prosecuting computer crime.

Lloyd has maintained his innocence. "There's no way in the world I did this," he said in an interview after the verdict was handed down in May.

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