Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistance device, which can play music, news, and even set reminders via voice activation, this time he could hear much more than the voice of his owner: a murder.
On November 21, 2015, US citizen James Bates invited three friends to watch a soccer game at his home in Arkansas, USA. Owen McDonald, Sean Henry and Victor Collins headed to the venue that day.
According to the media ‘CNN’, throughout the night, Bates was asking his virtual assistant Alexa to play different songs. They had beer and vodka and, after a while, headed to the host’s hot tub.
The meeting lasted until one in the morning when Bates went to bed and the other guests went home, or so it seemed. The next morning, Collins’ body was found floating in the bathtub.
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The authorities gathered the versions of the three suspects. According to them, McDonald and Collins stayed in the hot tub longer, testimony that McDonald’s wife confirmed.
Given these statements, James Bates was charged with first degree murder. However, for him to be found guilty, the authorities found one more witness who would provide them with the necessary evidence: Alexa.What the Prosecutor’s Office was looking for was to be able to verify the usage log and find out if Bates used Alexa when he allegedly slept after 1 am Neighbors say the music continued hours later after that time.
Bates used Alexa to play music during the meeting.
For a time, the Amazon company refused to provide information for the investigation, since that could spark a controversy by making its users believe that they could be being spied on through their devices.
In 2016, the technology giant gave in to the requests of the Prosecutor’s Office and agreed to deliver the voice record of the Bates device. The audios used for the investigation were not revealed to the public.
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The resolution of the case
More than two years after Collins’ death, the prosecutor in the case, Nathan Smith, requested that the accusations against Bates be withdrawn, since no convincing evidence had been found in Alexa’s voice record.
Looking at Bates’ use of his device that night, it was concluded that Bates was sleeping and did not use Alexa during the hours Collins died.
“I can’t stand in front of a jury and ask them to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt if I have a reasonable doubt myself.”, affirmed the prosecutor for an interview with the medium ‘KNWA – FOX 24’.
Bates proclaimed his innocence from the beginning of the investigation. “I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m not going to hide. I’ll stay here,” the accused told ‘KNWA’
“Obviously we are very happy that the prosecution dismissed the case, but we also have empathy for the victim and the victim’s family. This is not a day to rub it in anyone’s face,” Bates added.
In the same interview, Kristine Collins, the victim’s wife, showed that she was not satisfied with the judge’s ruling. “The prosecutors have let us all down today,” she said.
The murder went unsolved for more than two years.
Given the dissatisfaction with the results of the hearing, the State would have had one year to file charges again against the accused. However, the lawyer Kathleen Zellner told ‘CNN’ that this possibility was unfeasible because it requires strong evidence.
According to ‘CNN’, the autopsy revealed that Collins’ body had signs of violence, scars that showed a struggle with someone and that he would have been fighting for his life. For this reason, the authorities initially accused the host of the house.
However, as there was no evidence to incriminate any of the suspects, the judge decided to declare the death an accident due to his drunken state. The victim presented 32 degrees of alcohol, four times the legal limit to drive in Arkansas.
This means that Collins, being under the influence of alcohol, would have drowned alone in the Jacuzzi, moments after he was left alone at the scene.
To this, Kimberly Weber, the defendant’s lawyer, added that between Collins and Bates there was a great friendship, so for the suspect it represented a great loss and he did not act as if he were to blame for his death.
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The judge in the case ruled that Collins’ death was an accident.
This case put an alert on technology services companies such as Google and Apple so that relevant information can be provided that can help solve cases similar to this one.
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