In our last post, we shared details about how cell phone text data was recently used in a civil matter. This time, we are looking at different types of mobile phone data in a criminal case – the Alex Murdaugh murder case.
When attorneys think of data for discovery, the first thing that comes to mind is documents and communications (emails). When they expand their consideration, they often focus on those two types of data, with the communications delivered via text messages rather than emails. But cell phones contain many more types of valuable information. The recent conviction of Alex Murdaugh illustrates this. For instance, consider multi-media data such as videos.
An ABC reporter interviewed a juror, Craig Moyer, about the guilty verdict. In the interview, Mr. Moyer said the evidence was clear when he heard the voices on the video taken from Paul Murdaugh’s phone. (Paul was the son who was murdered.) The senior Murdaugh insisted that he had not been at the crime scene, the family’s dog kennel, until he discovered his wife’s and son’s bodies. However, the video and its time stamp put the convicted attorney at the scene of the murders just moments before the victims’ phones were locked. After the video was played in the courtroom, Murdaugh finally admitted that it was, indeed, his voice. For the jurors, that piece of cell phone evidence was the turning point in the trial.
Even before the jury and those in the courtroom saw the video and heard that voice, the prosecution used several additional pieces of cell phone data to make its case. First, the call phone log helped them identify Rogen Gibson as the person who received the video and testified that he heard Alex’s voice in the video.
Prosecutors also used phone logs to pinpoint the times of the murders. They used the times that the phone locked: Maggie’s locked at 8.49 pm and 31 seconds, and Paul’s locked at 8.49 pm and 35 seconds. Neither victim used their phone after that, so the prosecution claims Alex murdered them in the following minutes.
Additionally, GPS locations might have been used to place Murdaugh at the scene of the murders, except that he knew not to have it on him. He did, however, have it with him when he attempted to create his alibi, driving to his mother’s home to check up on her. But, by comparing the GPS reading for that trip to the historical data on his vehicle, the prosecutors showed that he drove much faster that day than he usually drove on trips to visit his mother. He exceeded the 55 MPH speed limit by traveling as fast as 80 MPH at night, even though his typical daytime speed was only 40 MPH. The prosecution conjectured that he was trying to create a timeframe that would make his presence at the scene of the murders questionable. (Since his mother has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, she could not testify about the length or time of his visit.)
Then, there’s the fitness tracker data. According to a cell phone evidence expert from the Law & Crime Trial Network, Alex Murdaugh’s phone recorded 283 steps taken in four minutes. This was when he claimed he was waking from a nap and heading to his car to drive to his mother’s house. Those steps create suspicion. How far away might his car have been? Wouldn’t he have mentioned other activities on the way to his vehicle?
Once forensics experts and attorneys delve into the data on cell phones, they can find a trove of valuable information. In the Alex Murdaugh double murder case, it seemed to be enough to convict him. Attorneys need to regularly request cell phone data to ensure they are getting the complete story.
ModeOne makes it easy to collect that mobile phone data, even when the phones are locked. Contact us to find out about our remote cell phone collection services.