Did Alexa witness double murder? Judge orders Amazon to turn over device’s audio

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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New Hampshire Judge Orders Amazon to Turn Over Alexa Audio in Murder Case

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A judge in a New Hampshire criminal case has ordered Amazon to turn over audio recordings from one of the company’s Echo devices, which may have caught the sounds of a January 2017 double homicide.

Timothy Verrill, 36, of Dover, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the fatal stabbings of Christine M. Sullivan, 48, and 32-year-old Jenna Marie Pellegrini. He is expected to stand trial in May.

 
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A judge last week ordered Amazon to turn over the recordings from an Echo smart home device that was in the Farmington home where the women were killed Jan. 27, according to The Washington Post. The publication said prosecutors believe the device, which awaits "Alexa" voice commands from household members, might have recorded the women's deaths, along with the moments before and after they were killed.  

Prosecutors in the case already had the speaker as evidence, but a judge was required to compel Amazon officials to release any recordings the company has on its servers. The court seeks to have released data from Jan. 27, when the women were allegedly killed, through Jan. 29, when their bodies were found.

"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," the ruling stated, according to the Post

Amazon officials told the Post they will release the data only after a valid legal demand has been served.

Sullivan and Pellegrini were slain at a home in Farmington, where Verrill is accused of stabbing both women multiple times and striking Sullivan over the head with a blunt object, according to the New Hampshire Department of JusticeAccording to The Rochester Voice, autopsies showed that Sullivan had a fractured skull and stab wounds to the neck and lungs.

Pellegrini, a hairstylist who left behind two small children, was stabbed 43 times in the neck, torso and back, the newspaper said.

Verrill, who was indicted last November, is also charged with two counts of reckless second-degree murder and five counts of falsifying physical evidence, DOJ officials said.

The home where the women were killed belonged to Sullivan's longtime boyfriend, convicted drug dealer Dean Smoronk, the Voice reported. Sullivan lived in the home and Pellegrini was her houseguest at the time of their killings.

The reckless second-degree murder charges allege that, alternatively to committing first-degree murder, Verrill "recklessly caused the death of (both women) under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life" by stabbing them and by striking Sullivan in the head, the DOJ news release said.

The charges of falsifying evidence stem from allegations that Verrill hid the women’s bodies, which he wrapped in tarps, trash bags and other coverings, under the porch at Smoronk’s home. Their bodies were found a couple of days later after Smoronk, who had been visiting his rental property in Florida, reported Sullivan missing upon his return home.

DOJ officials said Verrill altered a blood stain on the porch by pouring Prestone Driveway Heat ice melter onto it. He is also accused of concealing bloodstained sheets, as well as Pellegrini's belongings, in a black trash bag in the basement of the home.

"It is alleged that Mr. Verrill committed these crimes with a purpose to impair the verity or availability of the evidence in (a criminal) proceeding or investigation," the news release said.

The Voice reported in January, around the first anniversary of the slayings, that Verrill told an acquaintance the day before the crimes that he believed Pellegrini was a drug informant. Testimony at a bail hearing last year alleged that Sullivan was also dealing drugs out of the house.

New Hampshire State Police Detective Brian Strong testified at the hearing that Pellegrini, who needed a place to stay, moved into the house on Jan. 25, two days before the slayings. The following day, Verrill went to Smoronk and Sullivan's home to get drugs, the Voice said.

A friend of Verrill’s later told investigators that Verrill told him early the morning of the slayings that he believed Pellegrini, who was a new addition to the house, was an informant, the newspaper reported.

Strong testified that Smoronk told detectives that Sullivan called him around 2 a.m. the day of the killings to tell him Verrill had returned. Phone records backed up Smoronk's claim, the Voice said.

Video from the house showed images of Verrill, Sullivan and Pellegrini, the newspaper reported. Sullivan was last spotted just after 3:30 a.m. and Pellegrini, around 6:38 a.m.

Verrill was seen leaving the house just nine minutes later, his shoes in hand, Strong said in court.

The detective testified that Verrill's friend told investigators Verrill showed up at his house again later that day, minus the flannel shirt and hat he was wearing in the video shot at Smoronk's house, the Voice reported. Receipts and store surveillance also indicate that Verrill went to Lowe's and Walmart that same day to buy salt and ammonia cleanser.

Evidence of both were found at the crime scene, the Voice reported. Verrill was arrested on the charges about a week after the slayings.