Many people like the convenience of virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri. Unfortunately, police and prosecutors may attempt to seize recordings from suspects’ and defendants’ virtual assistants as evidence of crimes. The following is from “Police think Alexa may have witnessed a New Hampshire double slaying—now they want Amazon to turn her over” by Meagan Flynn, The Washington Post, November 14, 2018 https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-alexa-new-hampshire-murder-witness-20181114-story.html
Prosecutors in Farmington, New Hampshire, want to use any recordings found on the defendant Timothy Verrill’s Alexa, the artificial woman who personifies the Amazon Echo virtual assistant, to see if it provides key evidence that Verrill killed Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pelligrini on January 27, 2017. A judge has ordered Amazon to turn over any recordings the Echo device may have made from Jan. 27, the day the women were killed, until Jan. 29.
In a statement to The Post, an Amazon spokesperson indicated Amazon wouldn’t be turning over the data so easily, appearing to prioritize consumer privacy as it has done in the past.
“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” the spokesperson said. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
When police arrived at the crime scene on January 29, 2017, they found blood splattered on the kitchen walls and on the refrigerator, New Hampshire State Police Sergeant Strong said. It was soaked into the mattress in the upstairs bedroom, where police believe Pellegrini was stabbed 43 times.
On the night of the murder, Smoronk, the suspected drug trafficker, received a phone call from Verill in the early morning hours of Jan. 27: Verrill, Smoronk told police, was concerned Jenna Pellegrini was an informant, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported.
In a matter of hours, home surveillance captured Verrill arriving at the home where in a flannel shirt and a ball cap, Strong testified during the bail hearing. Within 20 minutes, he was captured attempting to obscure the lens of three of the surveillance cameras before ultimately shutting the system down.
And over the next several days prosecutors say he made a series of suspicious trips around town, according to footage by WMUR-TV. He bought cleanup products from a Walmart. He went to go see a priest, and he had “not one, but two breakdowns that take him to the hospital,” the prosecutor said.
The case recalls a 2015 Arkansas murder investigation in which a woman was found dead in a backyard hot tub the morning after the man who lived there, Nate Bates, invited friends over to watch a football game. Bates was soon charged in her death and pleaded not guilty. Police found Alexa sitting on Bates’s kitchen counter.
Amazon initially resisted law enforcement’s efforts to obtain the potential relevant recordings but ultimately relented after Bates gave permission for his Amazon Echo to be searched – but it didn’t turn into the linchpin prosecutors hoped for: They dropped the charges against Bates in November 2017 after finding that the evidence, including the Echo recordings, supported more than one “reasonable explanation” for the victim’s death.
If you have been charged with a crime where virtual assistant evidence may be used against you, you need an experienced defense attorney. Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over thirty years experience. Please call him today for a free consultation.