Did DragonCon co-founder Ed Kramer decide on his own to mislead Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader about his identity when she gave him access to the county's internal computer network?
Well, it depends on who you ask. That question was a key one presented by the defense as Kramer testified at Schrader's computer trespassing trial on Wednesday.
Kramer, who has not been affiliated with DragonCon in years and took an Alford Plea on child molestation charges in 2013, said private investigator T.J. Ward told him to say his name was "Elliott."
But, to Schrader's attorney, B.J. Bernstein, it appeared to be a case of Kramer misleading the judge. She pointed to him not only using "Elliott" — his middle name — instead of his full name when talking to Schrader, but also questioned him on why he sent another person, Frank Karic, to meet with Schrader instead of going to her office himself.
"You were not going to identify yourself to Kathryn as 'Ed Kramer,' either in person or on the phone," Bernstein countered.
"I never met with her in person and I identified myself the way that T.J. had instructed me," Kramer said. "If T.J. would have told me, 'I told her that Ed Kramer was calling,' I would have called her and said 'Ed Kramer.' This is the standard protocol of when I get a phone call from T.J. of how to identify myself."
Kramer's involvement in the computer trespassing case was a key detail of the unusual and sordid courtroom drama, in which Schrader allegedly brought in Ward, Kramer and Karic to monitor activity on her work computer — thereby giving them access to the county's computer network — because she thought District Attorney Danny Porter was hacking her computer.
Ward, an investigator who has worked on high profile cases including the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, testified that Kramer used the name "Elliott Benton" when dealing with the judge, and that Kramer had used that name before in other instances where he performed computer work for the private investigator.
"Benton" is the last name of Kramer's girlfriend, Ward said.
"He's used 'Elliott Benton' since I've known him," Ward said. "I've known him since 2007 ... I know him to be Edward Kramer, but he's always used ('Elliott Benton')."
Ward said this was not the first time he has worked with Kramer.
"Mr. Kramer has assisted me in computer forensic cases in the past and he's an expert on the computer," Ward said.
Berstein repeatedly questioned Kramer on whether he withheld his true identity from Schrader because of the past charges against him — which had been handled in Gwinnett County.
Kramer had talked to Schrader on the phone at one point.
"You knew that your presence would set off a problem here at the courthouse," Bernstein asked Kramer.
"I believe my presence would have done so," Kramer replied.
"And, therefore you made sure that Kathryn had no idea that, in fact, the person she was talking to was Ed Kramer," Berstein said.
"The relevant point is that my goal was to solve her problem, and I thought it would be far better to have Frank Karic be the person who would be interacting with her personally," said Kramer, who previously highlighted Karic's past as a law enforcement officer in Forsyth County.
How much Schrader knew about who Ward was bringing in to help monitor her computer was also an issue Berstein brought up when the private investigator was on the stand. Ward testified that he never told the judge who worked for him.
"You were comfortable — holding yourself out as the gold standard on CNN, handling nationally- and internationally-known cases — that the employee that works for you has been under a first offender ...," Bernstein said.
"It's no different than a law enforcement officer and a drug agent using informants," Ward said as he cut Bernstein off. "They use informants to gather information."
Ward's testimony also seemingly contradicted Kramer's later testimony at one point when asked if he told Schrader that Kramer would be working with her.
"I never said anything about who was working on the case, other than Frank Karic going to her office," Ward said. "I never said anything. Judge Schrader called me after the fact, after it was exposed by the District Attorney, Danny Porter, about Ed Kramer.
"Judge Schrader called me and said 'Was I talking to Ed Kramer,' and I said 'Yes.' "
In addition to the issue of whether Schrader knew Kramer was involved in Ward's investigation, a common theme among the testimonies from Ward, Kramer and Karic was that the judge wanted activity on her computer investigated.
The three men, who had been indicted alongside Schrader last week, had taken plea deals which led to them testifying against the judge at her trial.
"She wanted to know how she could prove that her computer was — that there had been an intrusion and she specifically stated that it was her belief that it was the District Attorney, Danny Porter," Kramer said.
"She was real concerned, she was upset about it," Ward said.
And that went back to a central theme among Schrader's former co-defendants: that she initiated contact with them and that she allegedly wanted them to have access to her computer.
"She was the one who requested us to be there," Karic said. "She told me to do it. She's a Superior Court judge. I was in law enforcement for 16 years and that's the highest authority there is so she's an elected official and a judge and she told me to do it so I did it."
Bernstein is set to begin presenting the defense's case to the jury when the trial resumes Thursday morning.