NEW YORK -- From the front row in the Southern District of New York’s Federal Courtroom, Jeremy Hammond’s mother wondered aloud whether this day -- her 50th birthday -- would be a happy one.
Rose Collins had traveled nearly 1,800 miles from Austin, Texas to see her 28-year-old son’s sentencing on Friday for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In May, Hammond pleaded guilty to the 2011 hack of Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, and eight other hacks of law enforcement and defense contractor websites.
Dozens of Internet activists also came to watch. They considered the Stratfor hack a heroic act of civil disobedience.
Inside the courtroom
Hammond’s supporters filled the rows behind Collins on one half of the courtroom. They believe he only intended to shed light on the government’s use of private security firms for intelligence gathering. His defense attorneys argued the hacks were an act of protest.
“I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors,” Hammond had written in a statement after the plea deal. “I did what I believe is right.”
But prosecutors argued there was nothing “altruistic” about Hammond’s destruction of the site or his history of hacking other corporate and government websites.
The Stratfor hack exposed approximately 60,000 credit card numbers to $700,000 in fraudulent charges, they said. Hammond also stole the financial data, emails and account information of as many as 860,000 Stratfor clients.
Waiting in the courtroom
As Collins waited for her son, who had been living in a New York City jail for 20 months, she showed off the new tattoo she had inked in his honor.
Collins pulled up her pant leg and slid down her sock to reveal a blond, female cartoon character next to the world “Lulz.” It’s a play on “LOLs,” she told America Tonight. Laughing Out Loud. The term is commonly used among members of the Internet activist group Anonymous to demonstrate laughing at someone else’s expense.
Judge Loretta Preska
Collins figured that Hammond, who associated himself with Anonymous, would appreciate the joke.
It wasn’t long after she covered her leg that her son walked into the courtroom with a giant grin on his face. It was the first time she had seen him since April. “Look at that dimple,” she whispered.
“’What’s up everybody?” Hammond asked a group of silently waving supporters. It was one of the last things he would say to his mom and fans before learning his sentence: 10 years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Hammond’s attorneys, Sarah Kunstler, Margaret Kunstler and Susan Kellman worked to paint Hammond as an honorable young man, dedicated to cooking for the homeless and tutoring young children. They presented 265 letters -- written by Hammond’s supporters -- to Judge Loretta Preska, to remind her of their client’s charitable history.
But government attorneys reminded the judge of Hammond’s criminal past. In 2006, he served two years in federal prison for hacking another website and exposing credit card numbers.
“There is nothing that should give the court any comfort that he will not do this again,” said Rosemary Nidiry, an attorney for the government.
“Obviously he has a lot of skills,” she continued. “He used them to hurt thousands of people that he never met.”
The defense replied that Hammond had changed since that earlier offense. “I think that Jeremy Hammond at 28 is different from Jeremy Hammond at 19,” Kunstler told the judge.
In handing down the sentence, Preska said she had considered Hammond’s good works in her decision. “But I also note his lack of charity,” she added, in the extraordinary harm he had caused to people with whom he didn’t agree.
There is “no information in his record that suggests he will not continue to recidivate,” she said.
Hammond was escorted out of the courtroom, glancing back at his supporters one last time. “Long live anonymous,” he said, while flashing a peace sign.
Collins had closed her eyes and put her head in her hands. "Today I turn 50," she told America Tonight after leaving the courtroom, "and for my birthday the judge stole my child for another 10 years."