Melissa case could be headed to grand jury

The investigation against the Melissa virus suspect is ongoing and may result in authorities convening a grand jury to hear the case against the 30-year-old man charged with creating and unleashing the computer bug on the world, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office said on Friday.

David L. Smith, of Aberdeen, New Jersey, was arrested April 1 at his brother's apartment following a task-force investigation by state and federal authorities. Smith was in court last Thursday to hear the formal charges against him during what is known as the 'first appearance'.

He has not yet been arraigned. During that possible future court date, Smith will enter his formal plea. The arraignment will occur after the investigation concludes and if a grand jury indicts Smith on the charges, according to Paul Loriquet, the attorney general's spokesman. A time table for that apparently has not been set, although Loriquet said that he could not provide many details because the investigation is ongoing.

If Thursday's first appearance is any indication, Smith's case is going to be worthy of ongoing global media coverage. The Melissa virus garnered international attention when it was unleashed late last month, being sent first to a sex-oriented listserv.

Ultimately, the virus caused corporate giants like Microsoft and Lucent Technologies, as well as government agencies and smaller businesses to shut down e-mail systems for fear of spreading the bug. Mutations to the virus appeared soon after it began to spread.

"First appearances are usually conducted in small county courthouses without a lot of publicity," Loriquet said. But the gallery at Smith's court appearance was packed with about 35 print reporters and one cameraman with a feed to other television reporters outside the courtroom, Loriquet said.

Smith was formally told that he has been charged with interruption of public communications, conspiracy to interrupt public communications and attempted interruption of public communications, all of which are second-degree felonies. He was also charged with theft of computer services and damage to or wrongful access to computer services, both of which are third-degree felonies.

If he is convicted on all charges, Smith could face up to $US480,000 in fines and 40 years in prison. He also still faces the possibility of federal charges.

Edward Borden, Smith's attorney, did not return a telephone message seeking comment about the case. Smith remains free on $100,000 bail.

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