Intaforensics: Digital Forensics Helps Secure Murder Conviction

16 January 2009

In January 2010, four years after his wife was found dead after an apparent overdose, 38-year-old Matt Baker, an ex-pastor from Texas was convicted of murder and sentenced to 65 years in prison.

The case is the latest to demonstrate the sheer scope of digital forensic investigation. Once a tool associated largely with computer-based crimes such as hacking or possession of indecent images, digital forensics is now coming to the fore as a potentially invaluable tool for both prosecution and defence wherever an accused person’s whereabouts, motives or actions are in question.

In 2006, Kari Baker, a 31-year-old teacher, had appeared to have taken her own life – a suicide note and bottle of sleeping pills found close to her body. Problems in the initial investigation had meant that it looked as though Mr Baker would walk free, but months later the case was reopened when evidence was brought to light during investigations for a civil wrongful death lawsuit instigated by Ms Baker’s parents.

It emerged during trial that Mr Baker had slipped his wife sleeping pills and waited for her to fall asleep before smothering her with a pillow. According to the testimony of his ex-mistress who came forward during the trial, Mr Baker proceeded to press Ms Baker’s lifeless hand against the suicide note he had typed, in case forensic investigators chose to dust for fingerprints.

The evidence, which eventually secured Mr Baker’s conviction, included data recovered from a laptop hard drive released by his church, and the main computer server at a youth centre where he also served. Computer forensic analysis was able to reveal that Mr Baker had entered the term “overdose on sleeping pills” into a search engine and viewed several pharmaceutical websites prior to his wife’s death.

Computer Forensic Expert Noel Kersh was also able to testify that Baker had looked at pornographic websites and sites aimed at married adults who want to have affairs. This evidence too helped the prosecution to define Mr Baker’s character for the jury.

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