It's rare that a local newspaper goes to the lengths that the Norwich Bulletin has gone on behalf of a person accused of a crime. The Connecticut daily newspaper has gone so far as to publish the complete trial transcript in the case of State v. Julie Amero. Read About It Here Was an injustice done?
The 45-year-old substitute teacher was convicted by a jury of four counts of risk of injury to a minor. She faces sentencing this week; her exposure is 40 years.
What did she do? According to trial testimony, children in her middle school class saw pornography on a class computer, and Ms. Amero did not do enough to prevent the children from seeing it. Is that enough to violate the state's porous risk of injury to a minor statute? The statute prohibits anything that undermines the health or morals of a child.
The defense contended that the pornography appeared on the screen not as a result of wilfull conduct on the part of Ms. Amero. Indeed, she was not a regular in that classroom. Another teacher, who has not been charged, had day-to-day use of the computer. Ms. Amero, the state contends, could at least have unplugged the computer if she lacked any other means to keep the images from appearing where children could see them.
W. Herbert Horner, a defense witness and computer expert, was prepared to testify that the images appeared on the screen as a result of the acts of others. However, the trial court judge, Hillary Strackbein, did not permit him to offer his opinion. Why? He was not disclosed as an expert in a timely fashion.
Judge Strackbein's ruling may well be an abuse of discretion. Ordinarily, the defense need not disclose witnesses prior to trial. Indeed, in one recent case regarding the late disclosure of an alibi, the Appellate Court ruled it was an abuse of discretion to refuse to permit the witness to testify.
Of course, Ms. Amero's ace in the hole in this case is a habeas corpus petition. If a reviewing court upholds the conviction, then her trial counsel will have to answer why he failed to disclose his expert in a timely way. No strategy supports that decision.