Interesting Example of the Use of Computer Search Evidence

From State v. Jensen (Dec. 29, 2010):

¶37 This case was not a classic whodunit. Jensen’s counsel told the jury in opening statements that the facts will prove Julie killed herself and tried to frame Jensen for her murder. Thus, any evidence favoring the State’s homicide charge or disfavoring Jensen’s suicide/framing theory strengthened the State’s case. Again, we underscore that the below summary is meant only to be illustrative and does not convey the entirety of the compelling case the State presented to the jury:

1. The computer evidence. This was probably the most incriminating other evidence. In October 1998, the Jensens’ home computer revealed that searches for various means of death coincided with e-mails between Jensen and his then-paramour, Kelly, discussing how they planned to deal with their respective spouses and begin “cleaning up [their] lives” so they could be together and take a cruise the next year. Jensen was evasive when Kelly asked him how he planned to take care of his “details” and, significantly, Jensen’s e-mails did not mention divorce at all. On the same date Jensen was planning a future with Kelly, his home computer revealed Internet searches for botulism, poisoning, pipe bombs and mercury fulminate. A website was visited that explained how to reverse the polarity of a swimming pool — the Jensens had a pool — by switching the wires around, likening the result to the 4th of July. The State pointed out the absence of Internet searches on topics like separation, divorce, child custody or marital property.

Significantly strong was the evidence of the Internet sites visited on the morning of Julie’s death. Exhibit 89 reveals a 7:40 a.m. search for “ethylene glycol poisoning.” Jensen told Ratzburg that the morning of Julie’s death she “could hardly sit up,” she “was not able to get out of bed,” and she “was not able to move around and function.” Jensen said he was propping Julie up in bed at 7:30 a.m., which was ten minutes before the search for ethylene glycol poisoning, and that he did not leave home to take their son to preschool until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.

Finally, the State presented abundant evidence that Julie rarely used computers and that, in contrast, Jensen was a skilled computer user and avid Internet surfer.

Note that this was just part of the evidence introduced to the jury; I quote this to show how such evidence could be used, in conjunction with other evidence, and not to suggest that such evidence alone would generally suffice to convict.

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