By Matt Ward
The 2010 Pahrump Valley High School senior who stole the title of salutatorian from a fellow student by hacking into the school district’s computer system and changing his grades will be going back to his alma mater sooner than he thought.
Not quite a reunion, Tyler M. Coyner was ordered by District Judge Kimberly Wanker on Monday to address the student body during an assembly sometime during his probation.
Unlike his graduation speech where he talked of his bright future and thanked his teachers and his classmates’ parents — the video of it is still on YouTube.com — this time Coyner will tell students how he broke the law, what the consequences were and how it affected his life.
The judge ordered the punishment as part of Coyner’s sentencing for a category D felony charge of unlawful use of or access to a computer. He was also ordered to pay $3,167 in restitution to the school district, $300 to Walmart — a stolen television was what led to his arrest in the first place — perform 200 hours of community service, get a mental health evaluation, liquidate any stocks he has and use the money to pay his restitution and check in with a probation officer regularly over the next few years. Also, he must get permission to use a computer during his probation.
Coyner agreed to plead guilty to the charge earlier this year in exchange for probation. He could have faced as much as 32 months in prison if convicted.
Coyner was the ringleader in a grade-changing scheme that netted 13 suspects, many of them juveniles. Coyner used a key-logging program to copy the password to the school district’s computers, thereby giving him access to the system where grades were recorded. He supposedly made minute changes in his grades going back several years. Because he was an honors student already, his grades were high, but he required the extra weight of additional points to be named salutatorian.
Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Frank Cremen, who represented Coyner, told the judge that his client had already faced serious consequences for his actions.
“He was given a scholarship to the University of Nevada, Reno, which he attended. He did extremely well and when this event was discovered, he was arrested at the college campus. He was returned to Pahrump. That occurred in May 2011. He lost his scholarship as a result of this and all of his grades were invalidated by the school,” the attorney said.
Since his arrest, Coyner has been a full-time student at Great Basin College.
“He’s not working at the moment but he is attending school full time. You have a letter from a member of the faculty at Great Basin College, the junior college where he is attending and doing very well there,” Cremen said.
Given a chance to speak, Coyner expressed his apologies and said he’s worked hard to become a better member of the community.
“I would like to say that I’ve had a lot of time to think about my actions and I am really sorry for what I did. I’ve tried to apply myself as a member of society after these actions.”
Still, Wanker wanted to deliver a forceful message to Coyner. She even had the young man and his attorney sit in the courtroom before his case was called so that he could witness first-hand what the judge does to defendants who violate probation. A man facing his third DUI conviction had failed to go to daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and was also not home during a routine phone call from the probation office. In court, Wanker revoked the man’s probation and sent him to the county jail to serve the next 12 months.
She hoped Coyner got the message.
“There’s a reason I had you sit in my courtroom today. I knew there were things on my calendar that I wanted you to see. You’re a bright young man who made a very stupid mistake. I don’t want you to be like that person who was in front of you. You violate your probation and . . . I will revoke it and will impose the sentence,” she said.
County prosecutor Michael Vieta-Kabell got in on the lesson, too.
“Legally, he’s an adult. But you can clearly see by his actions, he’s shown himself to be extremely immature. We all do stupid stuff when we’re young, but most of us never hit this magnitude. We’ve put him down in this hole with a felony, we’ve given him the opportunity to work his way out of it. The ball is in his court. But I really hope what he got to see with the gentleman who just preceded him is that if you don’t, you go right in the bucket. This is a felony. That guy’s going in for a gross; he gets to just go next door.
“He Coyner could be exposed to some serious time here, in a place nowhere near as pretty as the Nye County Detention Center. And I’ve been to the Nye County Detention Center; that place is a pit. So I really hope that he gets it.”
Cremen provided little argument in Coyner’s defense. He did disagree with the amount the school district was seeking in restitution. He said it was higher than what prosecutors had earlier presented to him. The judge said she received the receipt from the district and agreed Coyner should pay it.
“The citizens of Nye County shouldn’t have to pay for something they weren’t a part of. I didn’t alter the grades. I didn’t hack into the computer system and I don’t understand why the citizens should be responsible for that,” the judge said.
Cremen also argued against keeping Coyner off the computer, claiming that as a college student he needed the access.
“I’m leaving it up to the discretion of his probation officer,” Wanker retorted. “That’s the consequences for doing this.”
Coyner will be treated as a felon until he completes his probationary period. If he completes his probation the felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor charge. Cremen told the judge that Coyner will be moving to Arizona in the future and will be completing his probation from there.
No time table was given for when Coyner will deliver his next speech at the high school.