In what is believed to be the first case of its kind to use data from a beating heart as evidence, a Butler County judge ruled Tuesday that evidence from a pacemaker used to get a Middletown man indicted for arson can be presented at trial.
Ross Compton, 59, was indicted in January on felony charges of aggravated arson and insurance fraud for allegedly starting a fire in September 2016 at his Court Donegal house. The blaze caused nearly $400,000 in damages.
Middletown detectives said Compton gave statements that were “inconsistent” with evidence collected at the scene.
Compton, who has an artificial heart implant that uses an external pump, told police he was asleep when the fire started. When he awoke and saw the fire, he told police he packed some belongings in a suitcase and bags, broke out the glass of his bedroom window with a cane, and threw the bags and suitcase outside before taking them to his car.
Police then obtained a search warrant for all of the electronic data stored in Compton’s cardiac pacing device, according to court records.
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The data taken from Compton’s pacemaker included his heart rate, pacer demand, and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.
A cardiologist who reviewed that data determined, “it is highly improbable Mr. Compton would have been able to collect, pack and remove the number of items from the house, exit his bedroom window and carry numerous large and heavy items to the front of his residence during the short period of time he has indicated due to his medical conditions,” according to court documents.
Defense attorney Glenn Rossi argued Tuesday the pacemaker evidence should be thrown out because the search was an invasion of Compton’s constitutional rights and unreasonable seizure of his private information.
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“It is just fundamentally unfair to say to a person the functioning of your body and the record of it related to illness that you have … is something that the government should then be able to take and use to incriminate a person,” Rossi said.
Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Jon Marshall pointed to instances where police can seize medical records and even blood samples for use as evidence in criminal cases.
In the end, Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater ruled against the defense.
Pater said just because the pacemaker data is individual to Compton doesn’t mean it is more private than other things.
“There is a lot of other information about things that may characterize the inside of my body that I would much prefer to keep private rather than how my heart is beating. It is just not that big of a deal,” Pater said.
Compton’s trial is set for Dec. 4. He is free on bond.
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