Apple Watch data leads to arrest of suspected murderer

By Cameron Abbott and Allison Wallace

Last month we blogged about the potential for data from our smart devices being used against us in court. Well, that potential has now been realised in Australia, with prosecutors in a murder trial in Adelaide telling the court that data from the victim’s Apple Watch helped pin down her suspected murderer.

The body of Myrna Nilsson was discovered in her Adelaide home in September 2016. According to her daughter-in-law Caroline Nilsson, Myrna was followed home by a group of men, who then fatally attacked her. Caroline claimed the same group of men tied her up in the house, and that she only managed to escape after they left. But prosecutors allege that data from Myrna’s Apple Watch disprove Caroline’s version of events – and actually suggest that she is the murderer.

How could an Apple Watch help reach this conclusion? Many smart watches and fitness trackers contain sensors that are capable of tracking movement and heart rate, and recording the same. In this case, prosecutors told the Adelaide Magistrates Court that Myrna’s watch recorded data that was consistent with a person going into shock and losing consciousness. So the conclusion alleged by prosecutors? Myrna was killed by Caroline, and her loss of consciousness was mapped and saved by her Apple Watch.

Prosecutor Carmen Matteo told the court Caroline’s claim she left the house to raise the alarm about the attack only after the group of men had left occurred well after 10pm, whereas the data from the Apple Watch indicates Myma died around 6.45pm. “If the Apple Watch evidence is accepted, that is over three hours after the attack on the deceased  .. and represents time within which to stage the scene .. and represents time to clean up and discard bloodied clothing.

“This defendant did not foresee that the police would be able to discern the time of death and other information from that device.”

Ms Matteo has labeled the evidence from Myrna’s Apple Watch a “foundational piece of evidence”. We think that if it’s accepted as evidence in this case, it will help set the precedent for data collected from smart devices being used in all kinds of prosecutions and civil suits in Australia.

Caroline returns to court in June – we’ll keep you posted.

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