Google Searches Used in Evidence

Thanks to Alan Gahtan’s blog for the following juicy story: don’t google for an article on “22 ways to kill a man with your bare hands.”

Google Searches Used at Murder Trial
November 12th, 2005

Techdirt has a blog referencing a CRN article regarding use by the prosecution at trial of a murder suspect’s Google searches. Aside from other digital evidence discovered on the defendant’s hard drive by the prosecution’s forensic expert such as emails and incriminating websites that were visited, authorities claim that the defendant looked up the depth and topography of a lake where the body of his wife was found — before he reported her missing.

Murder Suspect’s Google Searches Spotlighted In Trial
By K.C. Jones
4:54 PM EST Fri. Nov. 11, 2005

Prosecutors claim a Mac specialist on trial in connection with the killing of his wife did a Google search for the words: “neck snap break” and “hold” before she was killed.

Robert Petrick, who is defending himself in Durham, N.C., cross examined a computer forensics expert this week. The expert testified about digital footprints he said the state discovered on several hard drives in Petrick’s home.

Prosecutors claimed that Petrick, who stands out in his Christian North Carolina community as a self-professed Pagan, left behind a trail of digital evidence including a visit to a site called bloodfest666. Investigators are also focusing e-mails to women they said Petrick was having affairs with and a download of a document entitled “22 ways to kill a man with your bare hands.”

Authorities claim that Petrick looked up the depth and topography of a lake where the body of his wife Janine Sutphin was found — before he reported her missing.

Google’s press office did not respond Friday to an email inquiry about the case, but a lawyer standing by for Petrick said he believes the evidence was all culled from the hard drives and he has no information that Google participated in the investigation.

Mark Edwards, who Petrick dismissed to represent himself, said that he believes he could have argued several legal points more expertly than the defendant but he may not have been as adept at cross-examining on computer forensics.

“He’s a computer geek,” Edwards said in an interview Friday. “I think he knew more about MacIntosh computers than the state’s witness did. I’m not sure how much the jury caught, but he seemed to be pretty pleased.”

The state’s laws require that Edwards attend the trial in case he is needed.

Edwards said the Google searches just came up, though the investigation began nearly two years ago. He said that there was a massive amount of information on all of the hard drives. Edwards said investigators also retrieved emails Petrick’s wife sent before her death.

Edwards and local television journalist Julia Lewis of WRALsaid Petrick apparently supported himself by running a computer business. Lewis said he seemed to know a lot about Linux and operating systems.

Prosecutors could not be reached Friday because of the holiday.
More computer forensics information is expected to come up during testimony as the trial wraps up next week. WRAL has been carrying live streaming coverage on its Web site.

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