Killer Convicted Based On Google Search History

Interesting article from EWEEK about a man convicted for murdering his wife and how police and prosecutors now are routinely making a supsect’s search terms a witness for the prosecution. 

Robert James Petrick, 51, didn’t exactly point a Web browser to the Internet search engine Google and type in "how do you kill your wife?"

But he came pretty close, say prosecutors in Durham County, North Carolina.

Petrick used Google to search the Internet for references to "body decomposition," "rigor mortis," "neck" and "break" in the days before and after he murdered his wife, Janine Sutphen, then dumped her body in a lake, said Durham County assistant prosecutor Mitchell Garrell.

By "Googling" his wife’s murder, Petrick was inadvertently supporting the prosecutor’s time line of events.

"If search terms aren’t part of the routine now for everybody in law enforcement, they soon will be," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which provides commentary on technology-related law.

"That raises questions about privacy and how far police can go. What you Google for defines you. Your search logs are the closest thing to a printout of your brain that we have."

Garrell defended his use of search terms as evidence; volunteering several times during a recent interview that his office and the law enforcers it works with always pay the utmost attention to privacy rights.

  • Further reading: Petrick Convicted in Wife’s Slaying.
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