TIME Crime

Jury Selection Begins in James Holmes Murder Trial

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo. on June 4, 2013.
Andy Cross—Pool/Reuters James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo. on June 4, 2013.

9,000 Colorado residents have been called for jury selection

An unprecedented pool of 9,000 jurors will travel to a Colorado courthouse on Tuesday where jury selection will begin in the long-awaited trial of James Holmes for a gun massacre in Aurora.

Holmes is charged in the 2012 mass shooting during a late-night screening of The Dark Knight Rises that left 12 dead and 70 injured.

Jurors will travel to the Arapahoe County courthouse in groups of 250 starting Tuesday, where each will fill out a 75-question survey, Denver’s ABC 7 affiliate reports. Jury selection is expected to drag on for months, reflecting the difficult of finding an impartial jury for such a high profile case.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the first-degree and attempted murder charges brought forth by prosecutors; if he is found guilty of the crimes, jurors would have to decide whether or not he gets the death penalty. If he’s found not guilty, Holmes would be committed to a mental institution.

Denver’s ABC affiliate has a full break-down of the jury selection schedule here.

TIME LGBT

Here’s What 5 Supreme Court Justices Have Said About Gay Marriage

From left: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stands with fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 28, 2014.
Larry Downing—Reuters From left: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stands with fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 28, 2014.

What Justices Kennedy, Alito, Scalia, Ginsburg and Chief Justice Roberts have said or written about the issue

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide once and for all whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples marry, likely resolving one of the greatest civil rights debates of the 21st century.

The Court will consider four cases that have been consolidated and will be heard together, from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Same-sex marriage is banned in each of those four states, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld those bans in November. That decision will be appealed in front of the Supreme Court.

The high court has been coy in the past about taking up same-sex marriage cases, and the current justices have rarely written individually on the merits of the issue aside from the crucial United States v. Windsor (2013) decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in which Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. That said, here are some of the past indications Supreme Court justices have given on the issue.

Justice Anthony Kennedy:

The states that have given gay couples the right to marry “conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the landmark United States v. Windsor (2013) ending the federal law (DOMA) that allowed states to refuse to recognize gay marriages granted under the laws of other states.

Kennedy added that DOMA imposed “a disadvantage, a separate status” and “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.” Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor joined Kennedy’s decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia

“This case is about power in several respects,” Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion on the Windsor case, arguing the courts should not decide laws on gay marriage. “It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case.”

Justice Samuel Alito

“Respondent Edith Windsor, supported by the United States, asks this Court to intervene in that debate, and although she couches her argument in different terms, what she seeks is a holding that enshrines in the Constitution a particular understanding of marriage under which the sex of the partners makes no difference,” wrote Alito on the same case, also arguing elected officials should decide on gay marriage, not the courts. “The Constitution, however, does not dictate that choice. It leaves the choice to the people, acting through their elected representatives at both the federal and state levels.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Speaking before an audience in Minnesota last September, Ginsburg marveled at the “remarkable” shift in public opinion on same-sex relationships and marriage. “Having people close to us who say who they are — that made the attitude change in this country,” Ginsburg said, the Associated Press reported.

Chief Justice John Roberts

In the case Hollingsworth v. Perry, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that judicial precedents that courts only answer questions that are “viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process” are “an essential limit on our power: It ensures that we act as judges, and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives.” It’s a similar argument to the one Alito and Scalia make in Windsor.

The others

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas haven’t written separate opinions on gay marriage in cases decided by the Supreme Court, and have kept tight-lipped on the issue in recent years — though the left-leaning Breyer and Sotomayor sided against DOMA in 2013, and Thomas has joined his fellow conservatives in voting that the court shouldn’t rule on gay marriage.

As for Justice Elena Kagan, not only did she vote against DOMA in 2013 but she officiated a same-sex wedding in Maryland for her former law clerk and his husband last September, so it’s pretty clear what side of the issue she stands on.

TIME justice

New York to End Solitary Confinement for Inmates Under Age 21

The move comes after a federal lawsuit against the city over its treatment of young inmates

New York City officials Tuesday said they would eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates age 21 and under at the notorious Rikers Island prison in the wake of an outcry over the prison’s treatment of its inmates.

The city’s Board of Correction approved the policy change in a unanimous vote, 7 to 0, and the policy will go into effect January 2016 as long financing for additional officers and clinical staff members is secured, the New York Times reports.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan is suing the city over its treatment of adolescent inmates, after revelations of brutal treatment and neglect of inmates on New York’s Rikers Island. Corrections officers have used solitary confinement as a key tool in controlling inmate behavior, but critics say it can leave lasting psychological damage on young prisoners.

The new policy, which comes in the face of mounting criticism over the punitive technique, would put Rikers Island at the forefront of national jail reform efforts. Jails in the U.S. considered to be the nation’s most innovative still use solitary confinement as punishment for inmates over 18.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” Ms. Herrman said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

[NYT]

TIME Crime

Vietnam Vet Loses Bid to Stop Execution on PTSD Claim

Andrew Brennan was convicted of shooting and murdering a 22-year-old cop

A decorated Vietnam veteran who argued he was suffering from post-traumatic stress when he killed a sheriff’s deputy in 1998 lost a bid for clemency on the eve of his scheduled execution. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole declined to commute the death sentence of Andrew Brannan to life in prison after hearing from prosecutors and defense lawyers at a Monday hearing.

Brannan was convicted of murdering Laurens County deputy Kyle Dinkheller, who had stopped him for driving 98 mph. Dash-cam video showed Brannan dancing in the street and saying “shoot me” before he pulled a rifle from his car and…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

Mistrial Declared in Case of South Carolina Cop Who Killed Unarmed Black Man

Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs sits with lawyers on the second day of testimony in his trial for the murder of Bernard Bailey in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Jan. 8, 2015.
Reuters Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs sits with lawyers on the second day of testimony in his trial for the murder of Bernard Bailey in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Jan. 8, 2015.

Richard Combs, the former police chief of Eutawville, S.C., charged with murder of Bernard Bailey in May 2011

A judge in South Carolina declared a mistrial in the case of a white ex-police chief charged with murder in the killing of an unarmed black man in 2011.

The jury deliberated for 12 hours before failing to reach a consensus over the verdict, according to the Associated Press. Richard Combs, the former police chief of Eutawville, S.C., shot Bernard Bailey three times outside of the town hall in May 2011.

Combs, the small town’s only officer on patrol, said he fired in self defense and that Bailey was attempting to run him over with a truck when he tried to arrest him. Throughout the trial, according to the New York Times, state prosecutors attempted to paint Combs as spiteful and was arresting Bailey on a trumped-up charge.

The Department of Justice declined to file charges after a yearlong investigation into Bailey’s death, according to Bloomberg. State prosecutors say they will attempt to try Combs again.

[AP]

TIME LGBT

Does Saks Have the Legal Right to Fire a Transgender Employee?

2014 Holiday Shopping Windows - Chicago, Illinois
Chris McKay—Getty Images

Leyth Jamal claims she was mistreated and lost her job because of gender identity

A former employee of Saks & Co. is taking the luxury retail store to court in Texas, claiming that she was discriminated against for being transgender.

Leyth Jamal says she was belittled by coworkers, forced to use the men’s room and repeatedly referred to by male pronouns (he and him) before ultimately being fired. The company responded in late December with a motion for the federal court to dismiss the case. In it, Saks’ lawyers don’t spend much time on any specific claims about mistreatment, instead arguing that transgender people simply aren’t protected by federal non-discrimination laws.

Legal experts who specialize in LGBT issues disagree. While there’s no federal law protecting transgender people from discrimination, courts and government agencies have taken the position that it is illegal, especially in recent years.

The Saks team declares it is “well settled” that transgender people are not protected under Title VII, the portion of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex. Opening their defense, they quote from a 7th circuit ruling that says sex discrimination is not synonymous with “discrimination based on an individual’s sexual identity disorder or discontent with the sex into which they were born.” But it’s important to note that this ruling was made in 1984.

“We’ve seen a real turnaround,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Early cases from the ’70s and ’80s were negative … but starting about 10 years ago, there began to be a reversal of that.”

Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, says that if anything is “well settled,” it’s the fact that transgender people should be protected under Title VII. “The trend has been very, very strong in recent years,” she says of court decisions in cases involving transgender employees and students.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency in charge of enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants or employees, takes a similar position on the matter. “We have claimed that to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity is the same as gender stereotyping and therefore is discrimination on the basis of sex,” says EEOC spokesperson Justine Lisser.

She traces their position back to a Supreme Court case from 1989. Ann Hopkins, a management consultant, was refused a partnership at accounting firm Price Waterhouse and told that in order to make the cut, she should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear makeup and jewelry, have my hair styled.”

In the end, the case set a standard that making employment decisions based on gender stereotypes like that—expectations about how a man or woman should look or behave—amounts to sex discrimination. Turner argues that discrimination against a transgender person “is always related to the perception that they’re going against sex stereotypes.”

In 2012, the EEOC made a landmark decision in a case known as Macy v. Holder. According to the complaint, a transgender woman applied for a job with a federal agency while still presenting as a man. She was qualified for the position, had a successful interview and was told she had the job as long as no problems arose during her background check. During this time, the applicant alerted the agency that she would be transitioning from male to female, and a few days later she was told that funding had dried up and the job was no longer available. Then she found out that someone else had been hired instead.

The case led the EEOC to explicitly state that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. “To refuse to hire her because she was a man who had transitioned to a woman was equal to saying she didn’t meet some social norm,” says Lisser. The EEOC now has two lawsuits pending against private companies who allegedly discriminated against workers for being transgender, under the same interpretation of the law.

In December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the entire Department of Justice would also be taking the position in litigation that Title VII protects people from discrimination based on their transgender status. “This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity,” Holder said. “And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

The announcement underscored just how quickly things are changing: Holder was the namesake in the Macy v. Holder case, because she had applied for a job with a bureau in the Department of Justice.

Still, the Saks’ case could go either way. Courts have ruled in conflicting ways on the issue, and despite Americans’ common belief that there is a federal law barring discrimination against LGBT people, no such statute exists. While 18 states have non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity (and three more cover just sexual orientation), Texas is not one of them. Consider same-sex marriage as a comparison: just because courts have been ruling in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, that doesn’t mean couples can get married in states where rulings on the issue are still pending.

“It is still not a settled question of law for the entire country and it won’t be settled until the Supreme Court addresses the issue,” says Minter. “There’s no way to secure certain and stable protections that can’t be undone except by states and the federal government enacting legislation.” In late 2014, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced that he would be proposing a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill in the spring, though its chances are slim in the Republican-controlled House or Senate.

Opponents of local or state-level non-discrimination bills that include gender identity often make the arguments that the specific protections are unnecessary, because legal precedents already protect transgender people and because so many corporations have their own non-discrimination policies in place.

However it shakes out, the Saks case is ammo for critics of those arguments. Despite billing itself as “inclusive to the LGBT community,” Saks’ lawyers are arguing that “employment handbooks are not contracts.” On Jan. 8, the Human Rights Campaign meanwhile suspended the company from their Corporate Equality Index, a ranking of LGBT-friendly workplace policies that Saks had scored high on in the past.

Jamal’s claims about the poor way she was treated, on top of her team’s legal arguments, will have to be tested in court. If the court rules against her, agreeing with Saks’ lawyers about Title VII, it may actually bolster politicians like Merkley who are trying to make such lawsuits moot by passing non-discrimination laws. “I just wanted to do my job,” Jamal has said, “but I was met with resistance at every step of the way.”

TIME justice

Prince Andrew Sex Scandal Lawsuit Has High Legal Stakes

Britain's Prince Andrew speaks at the 10th anniversary of Harrow International School in Beijing
China Daily/Reuters Britain's Prince Andrew speaks at the 10th anniversary of Harrow International School Beijing on Oct. 24, 2014.

Beyond the lurid details lies a legal dispute that could change the way prosecutors handle crime victims

On its face, the story is more lurid than pulp fiction: A federal court filing accuses the Queen of England’s second son, Prince Andrew, of having sex in three countries with the self-described “sex slave” of an American financier, Jeffrey Epstein, who is himself a registered sex offender who settled a civil lawsuit by the woman out of court. A photograph exists of Prince Andrew smiling while he hugs the bare midriff of the teenage girl with his left arm.

The filing also accuses a famous Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, an attorney for Epstein, of having abused the minor, and describes a larger criminal plot run by the financier to facilitate blackmail. The victim claims she was trafficked by Epstein “for sexual purposes to many other powerful men, including numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known Prime Minister and other world leaders.” These men are not named—yet.

Buckingham Palace denies the charges, as does Dershowitz, who threatens to sue the woman’s lawyers, including a former federal judge who argued last year before the U.S. Supreme Court, for disbarment. The woman’s lawyers sue Dershowitz first, accusing him of defamation for calling them “sleazy” in a CNN interview. An attorney for Epstein called the claims “old and discredited.”

But the oddest twist of all is not just that this is all really happening. It’s the reason why. The lawsuit that mentions these charges does not target any of the people who allegedly committed the crimes. Rather, it is aimed squarely at the U.S. Department of Justice, and its outcome could transform the way federal prosecutors handle high-profile criminal settlements in the future. “It’s a big case,” says Meg Garvin, the director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute. “If the Justice Department’s position stands, it eviscerates victims rights in a whole swath of cases.”

At issue is whether federal prosecutors have a legal obligation under the 2004 Crime Victims Rights Act to consult with victims of crimes during plea negotiations, even when settlements are reached before formal charges are filed. If a court eventually finds that they do, lawyers for four alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein hope to throw out a plea deal he signed in 2007, allowing the prosecutors to seek new charges against him, and possibly others.

The roots of the case begin in 2005, when Florida police began investigating claims that Epstein was paying underage girls for sex at his West Palm Beach home. The investigation was later handed over to a U.S. Attorney, after investigators uncovered evidence that more than a dozen girls may have been victimized by Epstein.

After contentious negotiations, the Justice Department agreed to a deal with Epstein that required him to plead guilty to two state charges, including a single count of solicitation of minors for prostitution, to register as a sex offender and to serve a short jail sentence. Epstein also agreed to assist his victims in filing civil suits against him for the harm he had done. (Epstein later settled a civil suit filed by Virginia Roberts, the self-described “sex slave,” who has accused Prince Andrew and Dershowitz. Roberts’ initial filing in her 2009 civil suit included the claim that Epstein had required her to be sexually exploited by his “adult male peers, including royalty, politicians, academicians, businessman” and others.)

In exchange, the U.S. Attorney agreed to drop any further prosecution for the sex crimes, for either Epstein or the people who had allegedly helped him to recruit and pay the girls. The agreement also said that “the parties anticipate that this agreement will not be made part of any public record,” an unusual condition for such a criminal plea.

The outcome of the case shocked several of the victims, who felt blindsided both by the timing and the leniency. In the months that followed, two attorneys, a Florida trial lawyer named Bradley Edwards and a former federal judge named Paul Cassell, who is also a victims’ rights advocate and law professor, sued prosecutors for failing to properly notify the victims of the case, which they argued was required by the Crime Victims Rights Act. “This will send the message that federal prosecutors can’t keep victims in the dark about the plea arrangements they are making,” Cassell tells TIME about the rationale for the lawsuit.

The case has been now been ongoing for six years, with more than 280 filings. The Dec. 30 filing that set off the latest round of media coverage was a request to allow two other alleged victims of Epstein, including Roberts, to join the case. The district judge in the case is now considering a request from the lawyers to release documents that would shed light on the negotiations between the Justice Department and Epstein that lead to the settlement.

In legal filings, Edwards and Cassell have questioned, without specific evidence, whether there was external political pressure on the U.S. Attorney to keep the case from trial, either from Prince Andrew or former President Clinton, who traveled with Epstein on his private plane at the time but has not been accused of wrongdoing. “The elephant in the room is this: How does a guy who sexually abused 40 girls end up doing basically one year in a halfway house,” says Cassell, using one estimate of the number of victims in the case. “This stinks to high heaven.”

If the victims are successful, they hope to void the original settlement with Epstein, giving the Justice Department another shot at punishing Esptein. They also hope to set a precedent for future cases, forcing the Justice Department to consult with victims of high-profile crimes, even when the cases are settled out of court before formal criminal charges.

Ironically, the case may have already made some headway in changing the Justice Department’s behavior. In 2011, after Cassell and Edwards started the lawsuit, Attorney General Eric Holder released new guidelines for how prosecutors should work with victims, even in cases where no formal charges are brought. “In circumstances where plea negotiations occur before a case has been brought,” the new guidelines read, “Department policy is that this should include reasonable consultation prior to the filing of a charging instrument with the court.”

The Justice Department continues to maintain, however, that this consultation is not required by law.

TIME justice

Ferguson Grand Juror Sues to Remove Gag Order

Ferguson
Cristina Fletes-Boutte—AP St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo

A new lawsuit claims that the standard of secrecy is outweighed by free speech rights

A member of the St. Louis grand jury that investigated the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson is suing to challenge a gag order that prevents the grand jury from publicly discussing the case.

The lawsuit, brought by a person identified as Grand Juror Doe, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. It names as defendant the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch, who came under intense criticism for his handling of the case and who is the official charged with enforcing the Missouri law that requires grand jurors to maintain secrecy about closed-court proceedings.

Grand jury secrecy is a widely accepted legal standard, but the Ferguson shooting was not a typical case. The national uproar it generated led McCulloch to make a series of unusual decisions about how to present the evidence. In a sharp departure from the norm in criminal cases, the county presented all the available evidence—including witness testimony that was debunked—and declined to recommend a specific charge. It also released reams of transcripts, court records and other materials after the grand jury declined to bring charges against Wilson for the Aug. 9 shooting Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

McCulloch has said that those decisions were made in an attempt to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into an unfolding case that became a flashpoint for a national debate over police behavior and race relations. The lawsuit suggests that Grand Juror Doe disagreed with the manner in which evidence was presented to the panel, and likely the decision not to charge Wilson with a crime. It argues that because of the unique nature of the case, as well as McCulloch’s pledge to provide the public with a full accounting of the court’s proceedings, the standard of secrecy is outweighed by the plaintiff’s right to free speech.

“The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance,” said Tony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.”

Impartial legal experts say that McCulloch’s choices in how to present the case were lawful. But nobody, including McCulloch, disputes the process was unusual. In normal cases, a grand-jury hearing can be a formality that features few witnesses, often none presented by the defense. An old saw holds that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

In contrast, the 12 members of the Ferguson panel (nine white, three black) were asked to sift through mountains of evidence to determine whether the accused was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In effect, the prosecuting attorney treated the grand jury in many ways as if it were a trial jury—but without the same openness, and with an indefinite ban on discussing the experience.

As a result, the plaintiff alleges, the members of the panel should be permitted to share their opinions about the case, which might “contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations.” The suit states:

In Plaintiff’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate—especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges. Moreover, the public characterization of the
grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with Plaintiff’s own. Plaintiff also wishes to express opinions about: whether the release of records has truly provided transparency; Plaintiff’s impression that evidence was presented differently than
in other cases, with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson, was the wrongdoer; and questions about whether the grand jury was clearly counseled on the law.

Edward Magee, a spokesman for McCulloch, said the prosecuting attorney had no comment because he had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Read the entire lawsuit here.

TIME Courts

U.S. Accuses Pair of Trying To Overthrow Gambian Government

US-AFRICA-SUMMIT
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images Gambia's President, Yahya Jammeh, attends the "Session 1- Investing in Africas Future" of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC on Aug. 6, 2014.

'The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies'

Two men who allegedly tried to overthrow the Gambian government in December have been charged with conspiracy to violate the centuries-old Neutrality Act, according to a Department of Justice complaint filed in Federal court.

“The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies,” United States Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. “With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions.”

The Neutrality Act prohibits U.S. citizens from attempting to incite war with a country that is at peace with the U.S.

Cherno Njie, 57, and Papa Faal, 46, traveled to the Gambia with an arsenal of firearms that included semi-automatic rifles, according to the complaint. Faal and others met near the home of the country’s president and prepared an assault against government buildings. The effort was quickly stopped in its track.

Njie, stayed on the sidelines of the operation, reportedly planned to serve as the leader of the country once the leader had been deposed.

TIME Sony

State Department Insists North Korea Behind Sony Hack

But the inside-job theory is gaining steam among outside experts

The U.S. government remains convinced the North Korean government was behind last month’s massive Sony hack, despite outside reports alleging an employee of the company may have been involved.

“The United States government has concluded that the North Korean government is responsible for this attack,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “And we stand by that conclusion. “

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation in conjunction with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, announced on December 19 that the rogue regime was responsible for the hack. But doubts have simmered among outside security experts, in part because the government has acknowledged withholding some of the evidence that led to the conclusion.

The FBI said it would not share its complete analysis of the evidence pointing to North Korea. “The need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information,” the bureau said. Publicly, the FBI has indicated the attack mimicked previous North Korean intrusions on South Korean systems, adding the “data-deletion malware” used in the attack was similar to other code experts have attributed to North Korean-allied hackers and attempted to “ping” internet protocol addresses linked to the country.

As a result, private cybersecurity experts have expressed continued doubts about the link to North Korea. “We can’t find any indication that North Korea either ordered, masterminded or funded this attack,” Kurt Stammberger, a vice president at Norse security in California, told the Los Angeles Times. Stammberger told the paper that he had briefed law-enforcement officials on the theory that the massive hack was an inside job.

But the inside-job theory has holes of its own. Outside analysts have only been given limited access to the malware and details of the Sony hack, and have failed to offer conclusive evidence that the U.S. government’s conclusions are wrong. “It’s not that it’s not possible. It’s just that it’s ambiguous,” Mark Rasch, a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor, says of the inside-job theory.

A disgruntled IT employee might have both the motive and technical expertise to burrow deep into Sony’s computer networks and extract some 100 terabytes of data, a process that cyberexperts say may have taken weeks or months. The nature of the hack—which spilled personal information about thousands of people and made public the private emails of Sony executives—seemed calibrated to embarrass the company. In their initial email to Sony executives and public statement, the hackers made no mention of “The Interview.” And wiping Sony’s computers, Rasch says, “is a tactic we frequently see in attacks by disgruntled insiders.”

Cybersecurity experts have said from the start that an insider could be involved. “We don’t discount the possibility of an insider,” Jaime Blasco, director of labs at the California-based security firm AlienVault, told TIME earlier this month.

In his end-of-year press conference, President Obama himself placed the blame on North Korea and promised that the U.S. government would respond, but would not discuss the specifics.

“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond,” Obama said. “We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

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