A case study on mobile victimology from #CACC2014

What is mobile victimology? The concept of “victimology” involves in-depth analysis of a victim’s life, including the normal and abnormal patterns of life over the days, weeks, even months leading up to a violent crime.

Mobile devices help this process because they are so intimately tied to an individual’s life that they often help to fill in incomplete or inaccurate witness statements, surveillance video footage, credit card receipts, and other information.

As this February 2014 article in Police Magazine noted:

Smartphones, GPS devices and other mobile media can be good starting points in any investigation, whether the victim is alive or deceased. The existing, deleted, and hidden data stored on them can help you develop leads to focus your investigation and move it forward. The data can also serve as corroborative or exculpatory evidence, along with mobile carrier data.

In a post-Riley world, of course, getting access to this degree of data requires proper legal authority: written consent, a search warrant, or a defensible exception to the search warrant requirement. Once you do identify the device as a nexus to a crime, however, its evidence can make all the difference.

Case study: mobile victimology in action

Last week at the Crimes Against Children Conference, Ronen Engler, senior manager of technology and innovation joined Michael Hall, chief information security officer at DriveSavers Data Recovery, Inc., to present how just this type of analysis helped prove how a rapist had premeditated the murder of his rape victim.

Their session was a corollary to a case study offered by the Dallas County District Attorney’s felony chief, Brandon Birmingham, together with Carrollton Police Det. Dena Williams and the DCDA’s special field bureau chief, Russell Wilson. Over that session, the three detailed how rapist-murderer Franklin Davis Googled the name and location of his victim, Shania Gray, as well as phrases like “Best way to get off a sexual assault charge” and “Gun shows in Mesquite,” after which point he purchased a gun and used social media to harass and intimidate Shania.

Davis also used a mobile app to spoof messages from Shania that appeared to recant her accusations against him, which he then used in his own defense. Our case study, published jointly with DriveSavers, shows how forensic examiners were able to prove definitively that not only had the messages come from his phone, not hers, but also the level of premeditation he engaged in. Davis was sentenced to death in November 2013.

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