Amazon’s hottest new groundbreaking device, Echo, is meant to be a helpful household gadget, but, for prosecutors in Arkansas, it could be the key to solving a murder case.
In November of 2015, James Bates, a 31-year-old Bentonville resident, had a small get-together at his home with a couple of his friends. One of the two— 47-year-old retired cop, Victor Collins, would not end up leaving Bates’ home alive.
The three men were said to have been drinking heavily that night— mixing vodka shots and beer— while watching some football and relaxing in the hot tub. At around 1 am, Bates says that he went to sleep, but when he awoke, he found Collins, dead, floating face-down in the tub.
The defense attorney for Mr. Bates, Kim Weber, says that the incident was simply an unfortunate tragedy that transpired after a night of very heavy drinking. She goes on to argue that the deceased’s blood alcohol content was four times the legal limit for driving in Arkansas.
On the other hand, Bentonville prosecutors believe that the homeowner is not telling the whole truth about that night. The victim’s body showed signs of a struggle, and the state believes that the hot tub and patio— where the death occurred— had been cleaned prior to the police arriving at the scene. Bates’ water heater also recorded a high amount of usage just before investigators came to respond to the 911 call.
When witnesses were interviewed about the going-ons of that particular night, one of them mentioned that Bates had the Amazon Echo in one of his rooms.
The system is meant to work as a hands and screen-free way to connect multiple devices. The user can even ask the Echo specific questions that others would traditionally “google.” So, when prosecutors realized that they had a possible impartial witness at the scene of the crime, they immediately moved forward in obtaining any and all data from the device. Nevertheless, when the attorneys drew up a search warrant for the information that was stored on the machine, Amazon fought back.
In a statement, Amazon explained, “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
And, though the company has not made any further public statements about their bold choice, some feel that their unwillingness to cooperate with authorities may have more to do with the fact that the Echo’s recording functions are not guaranteed to be “…accurate, reliable, or complete.”
James Bates has been out on bond since February. Prosecutors have yet to seal any sort of deal with the retail giant.