Jurors in the case against Gwinnett County Judge Kathryn Schrader ended their deliberations the same way they started: deadlocked.
A mistrial was declared Tuesday afternoon in Schrader’s case, a convoluted computer-centered saga that has captivated the Gwinnett County courthouse for nearly a year. Presiding Judge David Sweat reluctantly ended things around 3:30 p.m., conceding that a day-and-a-half of deliberations didn’t appear to have the jury any closer to unanimity on the three charges of computer trespass being considered.
Jury foreperson Rachel Steahr said afterward that the disagreements started almost immediately — and that the prosecution’s case left too many questions unanswered.
“Nobody was budging,” Steahr told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The cases for and against Schrader — who could still be tried again later, with a different jury — are both complicated ones.
According to testimony and evidence presented, a series of technological issues that popped up early last year led the judge to believe that someone was trying to hack into her work computer. Feeling that the county’s IT department wasn’t taking her concerns seriously enough, Schrader hired private investigator T.J. Ward to look into things.
One man working for Ward, Frank Karic, subsequently installed a monitoring device called a SharkTap on Schrader’s computer. Another man named Ed Kramer — the co-founder of sci-fi convention DragonCon and a registered sex offender with a lengthy history in Gwinnett’s court system — was then tasked with monitoring the network activity the device collected.
The three felony computer trespass charges filed against Schrader in an October indictment suggest the judge’s actions amount to her facilitating illegal access to the Gwinnett County computer network.
But throughout the trial, defense attorney B.J. Bernstein maintained that Schrader had no choice but look elsewhere when the county IT department didn’t adequately address her concerns. Bernstein also called expert witnesses to testify that the Gwinnett computer network had real security issues.
Defense experts also testified that the SharkTap device was passive, incapable of truly removing, interfering with, or altering network data.
Each of the three counts against Schrader was based on one of those things happening.
Steahr, the jury foreperson, said the prosecution didn’t do a good enough job proving they did.
The jury got the case around lunchtime Friday and deliberated about four hours before breaking for the long Presidents’ Day weekend. Another day of deliberations led nowhere.
“We couldn’t point to something that specifically said guilty or not guilty on any specific charge,” she said. “It was hard.”
Prosecutors said in court Tuesday they planned to proceed with a new trial against Schrader. But they said afterward that they would re-evaluate the case before making a final decision.
Schrader’s attorney, meanwhile, said the mistrial was a form of vindication.
“I am always relieved when it’s clear that our message was heard: She is not guilty,” Bernstein said. “We’ll be back before another jury and we’ll make sure that, again, we are clear that she is not guilty of what she’s been charged with.”
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