Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pellegrini were stabbed multiple times in a home in Farmington, New Hampshire in January 2017 and their bodies laid under a tarp in the backyard. Among the possible evidence police gathered from the home was an Amazon Echo smart speaker device in the kitchen. Prosecutors believe the device may have been activated during one of the murders.
On Friday, an Amazon spokesperson told the AP it won’t release customer information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” But that order looks like it will be coming. Judge Steven Houran ordered Amazon to release any recordings from the Echo, along with any associated data, like which phones might have been paired to the smart speaker device.
Timothy Verrill, who allegedly knew Sullivan’s boyfriend at the time, was arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder. Verrill also had access to the home’s security code and was seen on home surveillance video with both women before the murders. Investigators believe Sullivan was killed in the kitchen, during which the Echo may have been activated by saying “Alexa” or any number of “wake words.”
While prosecutors aren’t certain the Echo recorded any incriminating evidence, they need Amazon’s help to be sure. “The court directs Amazon.com to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability,” Judge Houran wrote, “from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period.”
Alexa Asked to Testify
As multiple outlets reported, this isn’t the first time Amazon has been asked to turn over Echo data in a murder investigation. Police in Bentonville, Arkansas requested the same during a 2015 murder investigation. Amazon originally fought the subpoena on First Amendment grounds, but then complied with the order after the owner of the device — who had been charged in the homicide –consented to the release. Those charges were ultimately dropped.
- Amazon Must Give up Echo Recordings in Double Murder Case, Judge Rules (Ars Technica)
- Are the Cops in Your Nest? How Smart Home Devices Are Turning Into Surveillance Tools (FindLaw Blotter)
- FBI Wants Google Data on Users Close to Robberies (FindLaw Blotter)
- Can Fitbit Data Help Solve a Murder? (FindLaw Blotter)