Police think Alexa may have witnessed a double slaying, want Amazon to turn her over

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Can the recordings on Alexa be trusted? Who was actually there? Was if the recording was from a movie/TV show/other audio recording? Was the crime a set-up?

Seems to me that without visual evidence, you can pre-determine a desired outcome based upon your position (as can happen in many trials with circumstantial evidence).

The data may be used to exonerate someone yet it may also be used against you.

Another reason I will never have an Alex in my home.

From SF Gate: Alexa might have been listening, as she almost always is, when Christine Sullivan was stabbed to death in the kitchen of the Farmington, New Hampshire, home where Sullivan lived with her boyfriend on the night of Jan. 27, 2017.

But does Alexa remember any of it?

That’s the question state prosecutors are hoping will produce key evidence in the murder case against Timothy Verrill, who is accused of killing Sullivan and her friend, Jenna Pelligrini, over suspicions they were informing police about an alleged drug operation. Prosecutors say Alexa, the artificial woman who personifies the Amazon Echo smart device, was sitting on the kitchen counter the entire time.

Now, 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, when police discovered them tucked beneath a tarp under the back porch.

“The court finds there is probable cause to believe the server(s) and/or records maintained for or by Amazon.com contain recordings made by the Echo smart speaker from the period of Jan. 27 to Jan. 29, 2017 … and that such information contains evidence of crimes committed against Ms. Sullivan, including the attack and possible removal of the body from the kitchen.”

Verrill has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.

Verrill’s case marks at least the second time Amazon has become entangled in a high-stakes murder case in which its device, a task manager activated on voice command, morphs into a de facto witness for the prosecution.

In a statement to The Washington 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.”

There’s no guarantee that Alexa will turn into a star witness. For the Echo smart device to be activated, typically it has to be prompted by the words “Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo” – the “wake words” that cause the device to begin recording.

But if Alexa really were listening, evidence collected so far indicates she would have heard a horrific attack.

Investigators laid out the mostly circumstantial evidence against suspect Timothy Verrill during an evidentiary bail hearing last summer.

On Jan. 29, Sullivan’s boyfriend, Dean Smoronk, the owner of the house where the women were killed, told police he arrived home from a trip to Florida to find that it had been turned into a crime scene, New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Brian Strong testified during an evidentiary bail hearing last summer. Sullivan was nowhere to be found, and so he called 911.

When police arrived, they found blood splattered on the kitchen walls and on the refrigerator, Strong said. It was soaked into the mattress in the upstairs bedroom, where police believe Pellegrini was stabbed 43 times.

Verill had previously lived at the house with Sullivan and Smoronk and had been friends with all of them. Strong revealed under questioning from Verrill’s defense attorney that the home where the killings took place was also at the center of an alleged drug trafficking empire, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported. Verrill’s attorney, Melissa Davis, suggested that this left open additional avenues for investigation into other suspects, maintaining Verrill’s innocence, Foster’s reported.

But prosecutors contended that Verrill’s behavior on the night of the murder and in the days following made him the prime suspect.

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 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.

Verrill was arrested the day after he traveled to Massachusetts for a drug-treatment program Feb. 5, the Rochester Voice reported.

When executing a search warrant, Strong said he found the women’s bodies beneath the tarp and found the knives buried a foot beneath the ground, wrapped in a flannel shirt. The police found a shovel speckled with blood, believed to be Sullivan’s, resting on top of the porch.

And in the kitchen, of course, they found Alexa, and took the device into custody.

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.

Just as in the New Hampshire case, police found Alexa sitting on Bates’s kitchen counter, suspecting she might know something.

Amazon initially resisted law enforcement’s efforts to obtain the potential relevant recordings, as The Post reported in December 2016. In a 91-page brief, Amazon moved to quash the search warrant on First Amendment grounds. It advanced the same argument put forth by Apple in 2015, when the company refused the federal government’s request to unlock the iPhone of the accused San Bernardino shooter for customer privacy reasons.

“Amazon does not seek to obstruct any lawful investigation, but rather seeks to protect the privacy rights of its customers when the government is seeking their data from Amazon, especially when that data may include expressive content protected by the First Amendment,” Amazon wrote in its brief.

Amazon 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.

Read the whole story here.

DCG

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9 responses to “Police think Alexa may have witnessed a double slaying, want Amazon to turn her over

  1. I’ve read a couple of articles about “Alexa” and similar devices. Supposedly, they don’t record unless one says, “Alexa” or “Echo” or “computer” or other words to turn it on. When people are being murdered in a home with one of these devices, what is the likelihood someone is going to say one of those words? So, what is being realized is these devices are recording all of the time. The “smart” devices are our enemies and are found in “smart” appliances from TV’s to refrigerators to watches. The evil technocracy out of Silicon Valley have invaded and stolen our privacy. We have to fight back and talk to our legislators. These products are dangerous.

     
  2. Why is Alexa a “she”? Since when do machines have gender?

     
    • Good point-where’s the outrage? Oh,wait,there could only be outrage if it was an “Alex”…….

       
      • And regarding your first question,personally,I’d very much prefer to listen to female voices vs. male ones. don’t fully understand the logic of it,but hearing a Woman’s voice,even an angry one,makes me smile. (I’m sure that REALLY enrages an angry Woman…)

         
    • I think the idea is to make people relate to these devices as though they were persons. People will probably trust a person more than a thing. Also, if they begin to relate to these devices as persons, they may become more and more forthcoming. These devices may gradually be programmed to have conversations with their clients and learn more and more about them. This information will then be conveyed to the devices’ owners, in this case Amazon. They will know everything about you. I think that these will eventually turn into cyber family members. Robots are really taking off in Japan now, and they even make sex robots. Talk about intimacy. TPTB will provide us with perfectly accepting, perfectly understanding companions that know everything about us, never complain, never make any demands, and are always eager to help that report everything back to our real masters. They will make us psychologically dependent on their technology. This way, they will control us. By the way, I understand that the technology already exists to have people communicate with one another telepathically over the internet using brain implants. This move toward cybernetics is the final step toward “the singularity,” when there is no longer any boundary between humans and machines. It is perhaps the ultimate step in creating a national and, ultimately planetary, hive mind. If we are all literally hooked up to machines, our lives will be controlled by whoever designs and programs those machines.

       
  3. I don’t think Alexa stores information for very long. Do you realize the amount of storage required to store everything Alexa hears? How much would it cost to keep it for even a week listening to all the Alexas in the world?

     
    • It’s getting saved somewhere as you can delete your long list of recordings in the Alexa app or do a bulk delete.

      I wouldn’t assume that recordings are forever deleted, hence investigators try to obtain that data.

       
    • And I KNOW Bezos likes to make a buck (obviously)…yet I doubt he would notice a dime missing from his net worth if his company had to pay for storage to record everything Alexa hears.

       
  4. Why on GOD’s green acre would anyone purchase “BIG BROTHER”??? If google is in fact filtered through the NSA, trust me, they have the storage capabilities. People are fookin’ stoopid and deserve what is coming.

    Oh! and just because you are NOT paranoid, does not mean that they are NOT out to get you….. (one of the fabulous furry freakbrothers)

    “Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.” Geo. Orwell

     

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