Smartphone evidence key to Pistorius case

With the high-profile Oscar Pistorius murder trial now under way in the North Gauteng High Court, it is becoming increasingly evident that smartphone evidence will play a key role in a case that is attracting global attention.

Legalbrief reports that while the Paralympian was entering his pleas in Pretoria, a team of top South African detectives were half a world away at Apple’s headquarters in California attempting to unlock the secrets in the encrypted content stored on the 27-year-old athlete’s devices. The Weekend Argus notes that the password Pistorius initially gave police gave them access to only his iTunes account. Investigators, with the help of a Durban-based company, accessed some of the data in October last year. Danny Myburgh, MD of computer forensic firm Cyanre, confirmed that the Apple experts had helped the police. Myburgh is quoted in the report as saying: ‘With the software upgrades we provided them they were able to access a large portion of the phone … the majority of the data. The problem is iPhones have two levels of security.’ Three senior police officers – the head of detectives, Lieutenant-General Vineshkumar Moonoo, Colonel Mike Sales and Captain Francois Moller – flew to Apple headquarters just five days before the start of the trial.

For more than a year, the state has been battling to glean the information on the cellphone. The Times has learnt from a source with knowledge of the technology section of the investigation that the information being sought relates specifically to SMSes and Whatsapp messages sent from and received on Pistorius’ cellphone. Other information that investigators are trying to recover includes the times of calls and messages as well as deleted data. Moller, a member of the team that visited Apple’s HQ, is a cellphone records analysis expert who recently testified in several high-profile court cases in which cellphone technology helped secure convictions, according to the report. It says he testified in the Chanelle Henning murder case, in which Andre Gouws and Ambrose Monye were sentenced to life imprisonment. The report states Moller’s testimony in the rape and attempted murder of Ina Bonnette and murder of her son, Conrad, helped secure the conviction of the ‘Modimolle Monster’, Johan Kotze. Full Weekend Argus report Full report in The Times

In another damning allegation, the Sunday Times reported that Pistorius was allegedly surfing porn sites on one of his cellphones on the night of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp. It is believed that the state will use this information to dispute his claim that he and Steenkamp were in a loving relationship. The timing of his Internet ‘activities’ – which also included surfing used-car sites – corresponds with the time he and Steenkamp were at home together on the eve of Valentine’s Day. The National Prosecuting Authority said in court papers in a reply to the defence that ‘the accused’s website activities from the time that he got home is in direct contrast to that of a loving couple spending time together’. Full Sunday Times report

Mobile phone evidence has already played a key role in another high-profile South African murder case. A report on the News24 site notes that Johannes Christiaan de Jager is accused of murdering Charmaine Mare. The Western Cape High Court that Mare recorded his sexual advances on her Blackberry cellphone. She sent the recordings, which were previously played in court, to her friend Nikita Small in Mpumalanga. In the recordings, Mare is heard saying she does not want to sleep with De Jager and that he should take his cold hands off her.

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