BENTONVILLE, Ark. – In the ongoing investigation into an Arkansas man’s 2015 murder, smart technology in the suspect’s home could prove to be the “smoking gun”.
Investigators believe there is a possibility that the suspect’s Amazon Echo – a gadget that listens and responds to its owner’s commands – could have possibly heard and recorded key details from that pivotal November night.
Police are working with Amazon to get a hold of the stored information and recordings on the suspect’s Echo, but not without facing barriers in the process. Amazon did hand over the suspect’s account details, but declined to hand over the voice records.
Bentonville Police have now issued a warrant to Amazon to turn over any records or audio from the Echo belonging to the suspect, who police identify as James Bates.
Bates’ attorney, Kimberly Weber, says this is crossing the line when it comes to personal privacy.
“That’s information that needs to be private. And to use it, to take an innocent man, and to charge him with this crime… it’s an anomaly in and of itself,” Weber said. “It’s absurd, after 23 years of doing this, I’ve never seen a case like it.”
Around 9:40 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, officers were called to a house in the 3500 block of SW Elm Manor Ave. in Bentonville to investigate a death.
Police said a man by the name of James Bates called 911 to report that another man by the name of Victor Collins was found dead in the hot tub on the back patio of his house.
Collins was pronounced dead at the scene by officers and EMS.
When police interviewed Bates, he told them he lives at the home with his 5-year-old son, but his son was not at home that weekend because he was staying with his mother.
Bates said he had three friends over the night before, Nov. 21, to watch the Razorbacks football game. He named the friends as Victor Collins, Owen McDonald and Sean Henry.
Bates said he and his friends were drinking beer and taking shots of vodka. After the game, Henry left. Bates said he and the two others decided to get in the hot tub on the back patio.
Bates said he, Collins and McDonald drank until about 1 a.m. Sunday morning. Collins and McDonald said they were going to stay at Bates’ house because they were arguing with their wives. Bates said he gave them a place to sleep and went to bed.
The next morning, Bates said he was cleaning up from the night before when he opened the back door and saw a male body – who he identified as Collins – laying face down, floating in the hot tub.
Bates said he flipped Collins over, pulled him out of the hot tub and realized he was dead. At that point, he called 911.
Bates said that McDonald was gone from his home by the time he found Collins.
Bates gave authorities permission to search his home, during which they said they found blood and signs of struggle in and around the hot tub. They determined that a physical altercation had taken place, which resulted in Collins’ death.
When questioned, Bates and McDonald said they did not know how Collins died. They said they were intoxicated at the time and didn’t remember much from the night.
McDonald consented to an examination and medical examiners found no injuries on his body that would indicate involvement in a physical altercation. After McDonald was cleared, police say that’s when Bates stopped cooperating with officials.
Bates became the primary suspect in the case. One year later, after meticulous searching in the ongoing investigation, the Amazon Echo could be the keeper of much-needed evidence.