Digital evidence has changed the legal and criminal justice system. Today, forensics and evidence is much more complicated than haphazardly discarded weapons and chalk outlines. Almost all crimes, not just cybercrimes committed in the digital sphere, have some sort digital evidence attached. The vast digital footprints left behind by criminals can be used to either prosecute or prove innocence. As more technology hits the market and is utilized for ill intents, digital evidence will continue to mount.
Here are 4 cases solved using digital evidence.
Murder of Kari Baker
One of the earlier cases using digital evidence was the murder of Kari Baker. In 2010, Baker’s husband, Matt Baker was convicted of his wife’s murder and sentenced to 65 years in prison. In 2006, Texas elementary school teacher, Kari Baker was found dead from a supposed suicide by sleeping pills. Baker had forged a suicide note for police. When police searched his computer, the history revealed searches for “overdosing on sleeping pills”. That, along with physical evidence of the pills was enough to convict Baker.
The BTK Killer
Another instance of early digital evidence could be seen as a precursor to what was coming in the criminal justice system. A now-primitive form of technology led to the capture of one the infamous murderers in American history. Dennis Rader, who went by the self-imposed moniker the BTK Killer, murdered 10 people in Wichita, Kansas from 1974 to 1991. In 2004, thirty years after his first murder, Rader began taunting police by sending the police and media outlets items from his crimes, including photos and word puzzles. Rader mailed a floppy disk containing one of these puzzles to a media outlet. Police were able to extract the data on the disk and trace it back to Rader, leading to his arrest. Rader has been serving 10 life sentences since 2005.
One of the most interesting pieces of digital evidence was used in the Ross Compton case. In 2016, Compton set fire to his Middletown, Ohio home as a part of an insurance fraud scam. During the investigation of the fire, Compton, who has a pacemaker with an external pump, told police he was asleep when the fire started. He told police when he woke up and saw the fire, he packed a suitcase, broke his bedroom window with a cane, and escaped. During the investigation, police ordered the data from Compton’s pacemaker and consulted with a cardiologist who found that Compton could not have escaped the fire based on data from his pacemaker. Compton also submitted forged medical records that did not match the pacemaker data. The pacemaker data included heart rate, pacer demand, and heart rhythms which were used as evidence to prove insurance fraud and arson.
Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy
The recent and controversial “texting suicide case” was prosecuted entirely on the existence of digital evidence. Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after text messages and phone calls showed she convinced her then-boyfriend Conrad Roy III to commit suicide. In 2014, Carter instructed Roy by phone and text to commit suicide with carbon monoxide poisoning, and did not alert Roy’s family or authorities to his location. The text message exchanges between the volatile couple led to Carter’s conviction and further brought the importance of digital evidence to the national stage. Carter, who was a teenager at the time of Roy’s death, was sentenced two-and-a-half years in prison. Earlier this month, it was announced Carter would be released early.