Cyber-sleuths help crack notorious cases
Posted November 7, 2008
Raleigh, N.C. — The Internet can tell people practically anything they need to know, and police are using that fact to crack some of the Triangle's highest-profile cases.
Murder charges against Mike Peterson, Robert Petrick, Drew Planten and Brad Cooper were filed, in part, because investigators found evidence on their computer hard drives and e-mail accounts.
"They're going to look for what evidence there may be, (such as) communication with other people that could affect opportunity," defense attorney Karl Knudson said.
On Thursday, for example, Wake County authorities released a search warrant in the case of Michelle Young, a pregnant mother who was beaten to death in her home two years ago.
The affidavit filed to support the request for the search warrant noted Young's husband, Jason Young, had done Internet searches for "head trauma knockout" and "anatomy of a knockout," among others, before his wife's death.
Computer searches are typically done at the State Crime Lab with every major case. What people think has been deleted from their hard drives is usually still there for trained analysts to find.
"It's a very in-depth process," said Jonathan Dilday, an analyst with the State Bureau of Investigation. "We're looking for evidence. We never know what's going to stick out. We never know what is and what isn't until we dig into it and (find) where that trail is going to lead."
The computer evidence is circumstantial, but it could be enough to convince a jury to vote for a conviction.
"If you've done searches on strangulation and the cause of death in a homicide is strangulation, that's a circumstance that someone is going to look at," Knudson said. "Those sets of circumstances can be really compelling to a jury – that kind of information – because it's difficult for someone to manipulate after the fact."