A mountain of cell phone records is typically part of every murder case.
Defense attorneys sometimes page through hundreds of thousands of cell records trying to make sense of them or ask a private investigator to dig through them.
Why not work smarter?
When cell phone or cell tower records are part of a case, a digital forensics investigator – such as Kyne Marshall of d/FEAT – can quickly analyze cell records efficiently and cost-effectively. Kyne, president of d/FEAT and a longtime digital forensics investigator, uses specialized forensic software to run various analyses on cell records.
Kyne’s digital forensics expertise can determine:
“The first thing I ask my attorneys is, ‘Show me all of your search warrants and subpoenas, and what you received in terms of discovery’ — because one of the biggest things we deal with is modified discovery,” Kyne says. “The prosecution will change file formats or highlight certain stuff and delete other pages out of the records, or they won’t supply the part of the return that gives you cell tower locations. I can quickly figure out what’s not there.
“I also look through the search warrants to doublecheck what they gave us because sometimes they subpoenaed the records from a phone number that they didn’t turn over,” he says. “The state may have decided it wasn’t important and didn’t give it to us – but that’s not for them to say. We’re supposed to get it. This happens in almost every single case.”
BWI Partnership with d/FEAT
For the past two years, Berry-Waltz Investigations (BWI) has partnered with Digital Forensics Expertise and Technology (d/FEAT) to expand the firm’s private investigative capabilities to all things high-tech.
Chrystal Waltz, BWI chief operating officer and chief investigator, says nearly every case BWI handles includes cell records – including text messages, call records, and cell tower location records.
“We have to go through these records page by individual page versus Kyne being able to feed these records into his software that can sort and group the information in a fraction of the time it takes BWI to do it,” Chrystal says.
“Kyne and I have worked together on multiple different federal cases where phone records were involved, and his work is outstanding. We want attorneys to hire BWI on fact investigations and d/FEAT on digital investigations so we can collaborate and work off each other, because the stuff Kyne is searching for is obviously pertinent information that could help defend the client,” Chrystal says.
Manual Cell Record Searches vs. Forensic Software Analysis
When prosecutors hand over cell records, they’re frequently in a PDF format. Even if it’s a searchable PDF, a manual records search would have to account for every variation of how a cell phone number might be listed in the records. Kyne’s forensic software allows him to quickly search for any iteration of a cell phone number. He can perform a timeline analysis to show the times and how often calls were made, and he can conduct other analyses to show, for example, links between different cell phones.
“I do a frequency analysis or a heat map analysis so you can get an idea of who’s calling who, who are the most commonly called numbers, or other analyses to possibly show who their associates or friends are,” Kyne says.
He also takes care to make sure that any cell phone location data is properly captured and that prosecutors are properly interpreting location data.
“A call might start on one cell tower but then swap over to another cell tower,” Kyne explains. “That’s all in the data, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you won’t see it.”
Misinterpreted cell phone location data is at the heart of the 1999 murder conviction against Adnan Syed, featured in the “Serial” podcast. Prosecutors in Baltimore have asked a judge to overturn the conviction. On Sept. 19, 2022, Adnan was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction.
In addition to correctly capturing and interpreting cell tower data, it’s also important to properly convert cell phone data to the correct time zone. Each provider keeps data in different ways, and that data must be correctly converted to the time zone where the device was located, taking into account daylight savings time and other wrinkles in time.
“Someone who doesn’t know (about the conversion) might look at a call detail record and say, ‘Oh my God, there’s a call that was made right after this guy was murdered,’ but because the record is shown in UTC [Coordinated Universal Time], the call was really five or six hours out,” Kyne says.
While Kyne is working on a case in which he believes cell records prove his client’s innocence, he says most of his cell record cases turn up leads for potential witnesses that BWI private investigators work to track down or end up casting doubt on the story a defendant is telling his defense lawyer.
“Cell records are investigative tools that allow us to go back and forth, working with the private fact investigators and the defense attorneys to try to get as close as we can to the real story,” Kyne says.
Purging of Cell Phone Data
Cell phone data, including cell tower location data, is routinely purged by cell providers, which is why it’s critical to quickly hire a high-tech evidence private investigator such as Kyne to help properly preserve it. Some cell providers discard cell data within only a few months – illustrating why a digital forensics expert should be brought onto the defense team ASAP.
It’s a simple process to bring d/FEAT onto a case: Kyne is available for state- and federal-appointed cases or for private pay. He has approved AOC rates for state cases. Kyne will draft an affidavit, explain to the court why his services are needed, estimate how much time he’ll spend on the case, and attach his resume/qualifications. “I send that to the attorney and they file a motion for funds with the court,” Kyne says. It’s a similar process for federal court, which typically has different budgets for startup, pre-trial, and trial.
For more information, call Kyne Marshall at (615) 649-6211 or fill out this online form to send him a message.