Case chal­lenges use of cell tower ev­i­dence

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Dave Collins

hart­ford, conn.» An ap­peal be­fore the Con­necti­cut Supreme Court is adding to the di­vided le­gal land­scape na­tion­wide sur­round­ing the va­lid­ity of cell­phone tower ev­i­dence used in crim­i­nal tri­als.

Eugene Ed­wards Jr. is serv­ing a 20-year prison sen­tence for rob­bing an 82-year-old woman in her Wethers­field, Con­necti­cut, home in 2012. Part of his ap­peal says the trial court judge should not have ad­mit­ted ev­i­dence that his cell­phone “pinged,” or con­nected with, a cell tower near the crime scene around the same time as the rob­bery.

The state Supreme Court is sched­uled to hear his ap­peal on Mon­day.

Courts around the coun­try have is­sued con­flict­ing rul­ings about whether cell­phone tower ev­i­dence is re­li­able. Some ex­perts say the ev­i­dence is of­ten mis­in­ter­preted, be­cause a cell­phone can be more than 20 miles away from a tower it pings.

“It’s junk sci­ence,” said Michael Cherry, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Cherry Bio­met­rics, in Falls Church, Vir­ginia, who has tes­ti­fied in suc­cess­ful cases to free peo­ple who were im­pris­oned based in part on cell tower ev­i­dence.

“Peo­ple tend to con­fuse the lo­ca­tion of the cell­phone with the lo­ca­tion of the cell tower,” he said. “Peo­ple like to say that the phone goes to the near­est tower. It goes to the clear­est (sig­nal) tower within range, not al­ways the clos­est tower. You could be sit­ting on your liv­ing room couch and you could make four phone calls and each call would use a dif­fer­ent tower.”

Ed­wards’ lawyer, Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut School of Law Pro­fes­sor Ti­mothy Everett, said in court doc­u­ments that the trial court judge wrongly ad­mit­ted the cell tower ev­i­dence with­out any highly qual­i­fied ex­perts tes­ti­fy­ing about its re­li­a­bil­ity and rel­e­vance. Judge Frank D’Addabbo Jr. al­lowed the ev­i­dence based only on the tes­ti­mony of a po­lice of­fi­cer with lim­ited ex­per­tise, Everett wrote in court doc­u­ments.

Pros­e­cu­tor Jonathan Sousa coun­tered the of­fi­cer was qual­i­fied to in­ter­pret and ex­plain the cell­phone records to the jury. He also wrote in court doc­u­ments that sev­eral courts around the coun­try have rec­og­nized cell­phone lo­ca­tion data and map­ping as re­li­able ev­i­dence.

In the trial last year of for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots star tight end Aaron Her­nan­dez, the victim’s phone ping­ing cell tow­ers was among the ev­i­dence pros­e­cu­tors used to build a case in which lacked a mur­der weapon and a wit­ness to the shoot­ing. Her­nan­dez was con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der.

Ed­wards’ ap­peal also said there wasn’t enough ev­i­dence to con­vict him, which pros­e­cu­tors deny.

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