David Kernell, who as UT student hacked Sarah Palin’s email account, dead at age 30

David Kernell,  the son of a former Tennessee legislator from Memphis who guessed his way into Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s personal email account in 2008, has died in California at age 30, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Kernell, son of Shelby County Schools board member and former Democratic state representative Mike Kernell, died of complications related to progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) late Friday or early Saturday, his family confirmed in a statement Thursday.

David Kernell, once ranked in the top 10 percent of chess players in the U.S., was a 20-year-old economics major at the University of Tennessee Knoxville when he guessed the security answers to enter Palin’s Yahoo! account, changed the password to “popcorn,” and then posted the new password, family photographs and some emails on the online message board 4chan under the pseudonym “Rubico.”

In a page-long statement regarding his death, the family said Kernell was diagnosed with MS in 2014 and participated in clinical research trials at the Cedars-Sinai Neurosciences Research Center in Los Angeles to help develop cures and treatments for other victims of MS.

… “David did not let this incident define him,” the family said. “He returned to UT Knoxville to complete his economics degree and further refined his programming skills by helping his local community. He first volunteered his expertise to Tennessee Voices for Children, a child advocacy non-profit group. Later, he moved to California and worked to develop facial recognition software that could identify children at risk of abuse.”

… The case earned the younger Kernell searing criticism from Palin and her fans, with Palin comparing the hacking to Watergate, the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee that gradually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. At the trial, Palin described the hacking as “the most disruptive and discouraging” moment of the campaign.

But federal jurors and a judge took a softer view of the infiltration. In 2010, after all but one of the felony charges were dropped, he served 10 months in a minimum-security prison for obstruction of justice after destroying evidence from his computer.

He also was convicted of a misdemeanor for illegally accessing Palin’s email. Between all the charges, Kernell had faced a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years probation. After exiting prison in 2011, Kernell was released from U.S. Probation Office supervision in 2013.

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