A judge on Tuesday postponed the trial of a teenager charged in the shooting deaths of an Arkansas couple so prosecutors can ask the FBI to help access an iPod and iPhone to search for evidence.
Faulkner County Circuit Judge Troy Braswell granted the request from prosecutors to postpone the trial of 18-year-old Hunter Drexler. The trial was moved from next week to June 27 to allow prosecutors to reach out to the FBI. The agency announced Monday that it had gained access to an iPhone linked to the gunman in a mass shooting in California, ending a court battle between Apple and the Obama administration.
"The potential advancement in accessing those items, I believe that’s good cause," Braswell said.
Drexler has pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder and other charges for what prosecutors say was his role in the killing of Robert and Patricia Cogdell at their home in Conway. Justin Staton, the 15-year-old whom the Cogdells raised as their grandson, is also charged in the July shooting deaths.
Drexler’s attorney Patrick Benca objected to the delay, saying the state had most of the evidence or knowledge of it months ago. Prosecutors have had possession of the iPhone they say belongs to Drexler since he and two other teenagers were arrested in Texas and brought back to Arkansas days after the July shootings.
Staton’s defense attorney was ordered last week to hand over the teen’s iPod, which was sitting in the defense’s evidence locker and had not been examined, according to the attorney.
Deputy Prosecutor Hugh Finkelstein said Tuesday that the Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Conway Police would reach out to the FBI to ask for help. Finkelstein said recorded phone conversations between Staton and others since his arrest indicated he had used the iPod to communicate about the murder plans and that there may be other evidence on the device.
The FBI hasn’t revealed how it cracked the iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, the gunman in the California shooting. Farook died with his wife in a gun battle with police after they killed 14 people in San Bernardino in December. A federal official told reporters Monday that federal law enforcement would continue to aid local and state partners with gaining evidence in cases.
Finkelstein said Tuesday that the prosecutor’s office had no intention of asking Apple for help, given its refusal to help prosecutors in other states in similar circumstances.
He said staff at the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office had reached out to prosecutors to say they could assist with the devices. Attorney General’s Office spokesman Judd Deere clarified Tuesday afternoon that the office does not have a way to unlock the devices, but can help with forensic examination of the contents if they are unlocked.
The delay will also allow prosecutors to request the testing of four additional swabs of blood and DNA matter from the Cogdells’ home and a truck stolen from their house.