The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that evidence on a man's laptop that he'd done extensive online research about how to kill somebody with antifreeze was obtained lawfully and so upheld his life sentence for murdering his wife to collect on her life-insurance policy.
James Keown's lawyer had argued his 2008 sentence should be overturned in part because investigators had no right to search his laptop.
The state's highest court disagreed, saying police had probable cause to search his laptop because he was a Web designer who knew his way around computers, they had evidence he'd managed to forge documents to convince his boss in Ohio to let him move here based on his non-existent acceptance to the Harvard Business School and because before her death, his wife had suffered medical problems consistent with slow ingestion of ethylene glycol - which he'd mixed with the Gatorade he insisted she drink.
Here, the affidavit drew sufficient nexus between the suspected criminal activity and the items sought by the warrant. First, the affidavit established the defendant's sophistication with computers by noting he had been employed as a Web designer. The affidavit also established that the defendant had forged contracts and documents from Harvard Business School, based on the affiant's [police detective's] conversation with the defendant's former boss. One could reasonably infer that he created these forgeries by using a computer. ... Second, these forgeries relate specifically to the motive alleged in the affidavit: that the defendant had been lying to his wife about his accomplishments and their finances and killed her to prevent her from finding out about these deceits and to obtain her life insurance benefits. Third, the affidavit specified that the victim had died from EG poisoning, which the affiant noted, based on his nearly twenty years of investigatory experience, would likely have involved research that a computer savvy person like the defendant would have conducted online in 2004. Accordingly, the connection between the search of the computer and the suspected criminal activity was sufficient.
The justices added investigators took care to limit what they searched on the laptop - only some 325 files out of roughly 400,000 on the computer.