A judge declared a mistrial in the case of an ex-Boeing worker accused of improperly accessing sensitive computer files at work after a...

Share story

A judge declared a mistrial in the case of an ex-Boeing worker accused of improperly accessing sensitive computer files at work after a King County Superior Court jury failed to reach a verdict Monday after nearly five days of deliberations.

The jury had deadlocked in the computer-trespass prosecution of Gerald Eastman, and jurors were sent home just before noon “because there was confusion about the law and how it applied to the facts of this case,” said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott Peterson.

Eastman was charged with 16 counts of computer trespass, a charge normally reserved for hackers who force their way into somebody else’s personal computer. In this case, however, Eastman was accused of taking files and other information from an employee-accessible system and leaking it to The Seattle Times. Eastman also gave information to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, according to evidence presented at trial.

Eastman, who worked at Boeing for 18 years — much of it as a quality-control inspector — argued that he had access to those files.

Testimony at his trial indicated that he spent hours every day surfing internal company Web sites, and investigators allege he downloaded more than 8,000 files that police later found saved on his home computer.

Boeing and prosecutors claimed that 16 stories in The Seattle Times contained information from downloaded documents.

On his personal blog, The Last Inspector, the 46-year-old Eastman wrote that one of the jurors came up to him afterward and “shook my hand and said, ‘you’re my hero.’

“He … and the other juror(s) who saw that I did not break the law in the case are my heroes, obviously,” Eastman wrote.

Peterson and Eastman’s attorney, Ramona Brandes, said the jury was irrevocably split, 10-2, for conviction.

Brandes said the jury was faced with a “vague statute” that does not specifically say it is a crime for an employee to access information that an employer doesn’t want him to have. Given the facts of the case, she said, the jury’s failure to reach a verdict was not surprising and showed that the panel had paid close attention during the trial.

“I am very pleased,” she said.

Peterson said he will meet with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg “in the next few weeks” to determine whether the case can be retried. He said the jury had sent out several questions in the past few days relating to their “confusion.”

Satterberg will meet with Boeing officials, as well, Peterson said.

“We have to decide whether this is a weakness in the evidence that just can’t be overcome, or whether we would be successful with another group of 12 people,” Peterson said.

Boeing spokesman Peter Conte said the company will welcome a meeting with Satterberg, “but you should know that any decision will be made by the prosecutor.”

Eastman was arrested at work in May 2006, briefly held in the King County Jail and fired about that time.

Boeing began an investigation into news leaks and Eastman was identified in 2006 as an employee who had downloaded thousands of pages of documents, some of which contained information that wound up in news stories. Eastman later acknowledged that he had leaked information to The Times.

About that time, Boeing received an e-mail titled “Leaks to The Seattle Times” that identified Eastman as the leaker.

The company began an investigation into Eastman and soon after contacted Seattle police.

As part of efforts to obtain a search warrant, a Boeing official estimated the company stood to lose $5 billion to $15 billion if even a portion of the documents allegedly copied by Eastman were “released to the wrong hands,” according to a written declaration provided to police investigators.

There was no evidence at trial that any information of that sensitivity was ever leaked.

Eastman, who was fired for violating company policy, has said he was trying to address serious quality-control issues at the airplane manufacturer.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com