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Accused Media Hacker Fails to Upend Evidence

(CN) - A federal judge refused to suppress evidence against a former Reuters social media editor accused of conspiring with the hacker group Anonymous to alter a Tribune website.

Matthew Keys had claimed that the computer evidence should be thrown out because the warrant used to obtain his belongings was overbroad, as it allowed for the seizure of every type of electronic media.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller disagreed Monday, however, and also declined to suppress Keys' confession on the grounds that he was on an antidepressant when he made the statements and was not in his right mind to waive his right to remain silent.

Keys was indicted in 2013 on charges that stem from conduct he allegedly committed while working for a Tribune Co. television station. Federal prosecutors accuse Keys of providing a username and password for KTXL FOX 40 in Sacramento to members of Anonymous.

The 27-year-old Seacaucus, N.J., man allegedly encouraged the group to disrupt the site, and a hacker made changes to the web version of a Los Angeles Times news feature by changing the headline.

FBI agents questioned Keys about his involvement during the execution of a search warrant in October 2012. During the interview, Keys allegedly confessed to his contribution to the hacking of the L.A. Times.

At the time, Keys waived his Miranda rights, but he now claims that he did not do so voluntarily because he was under the influence of Trazodone, an antidepressant with sleep-inducing effects.

Keys argued that he took the medication six hours before the interrogation and was in a deep sleep when the FBI showed up at his house. He said that he was drowsy, confused and forgetful during the questioning, and therefore his statements were unreliable and inaccurate.

Mueller found, however, that the "transcript of the interrogation shows defendant was rational, articulate, cooperative, and polite."

Nothing in the transcript suggests that Keys "was so affected by Trazodone or his abrupt awakening that he was incapable of waiving his rights," she added. "Defendant also was given the choice to conduct the interview elsewhere, but he chose to stay in his home."

It is also important to note the lack of evidence that Keys' interrogators knew he was under the influence of any medication, according to the ruling.

"Even if defendant felt compelled to confess because of Trazodone's effects, the absence of evidence of police overreaching dooms his attempt to suppress his statements," Mueller wrote.

In refusing to suppress evidence obtained during the search, the judge disagreed that the search parameters were overbroad in including all electronic media/

Because "there is no evidence the government could have known what computer equipment Keys possessed apart from his Mac or where he might store the information about his exchanges with Anonymous, the government's description of the things to be seized was sufficiently particular," Mueller wrote.

The seizure of Keys' computer was also justified because "the affidavit described Keys' computer as the means of committing the alleged crime: he joined the internetfed chatroom by using his computer and he kept logs of his interactions with Anonymous," the ruling states.

Keys has been charged with conspiring to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer.

If convicted of all the charges, Keys faces up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

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