A British criminal nicknamed “The Iceman” was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison last week. Who was the key witness in the landmark trial? A Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. Garmin data was used as a key piece of evidence in his trial and conviction.
Crime Boss Killed
According to BBC News, Mark “The Iceman” Fellows was convicted of murdering alleged crime boss Paul “Mr. Big” Massey in July 2015 outside of his home in Salford, England. Fellows was also convicted of murdering alleged mob “fixer” John Kinsella three years later. Fellows’ associate, Steven Boyle, was convicted of murder for his role acting as a spotter in the death of Kinsella.
The BBC report states that the investigation into Massey’s death was “stalled until new evidence was uncovered by Merseyside Police during the Kinsella investigation.” The “light-bulb” moment came after detectives seized Fellows’ Garmin Forerunner smartwatch.
Devil’s in the Data
After retrieving the GPS data from the device, detectives discovered that, three months before Massey’s murder, someone wearing the watch had travelled from Fellows’ home to an area behind a church where the killer eventually waited for Massey.
This evidence was characterized by prosecutors as a “reconnaissance run” and it was damning. According to the Liverpool Echo, the watch showed that it’s wearer was initially traveling around 12 mph – suggesting they were on a bicycle – before they “crossed a railway line, travelled through woodland, [and] emerged onto the grassy field behind the church” at a rate of about 3 mph, or walking speed. The wearer then lurked in the area for several minutes before returning home.
Garmin Don’t Lie
Because detectives didn’t obtain the smartwatch until three years after Massey’s killing, Fellows could have claimed that he purchased the device from another person. However, a photo of Fellows running in a 10km race in Manchester in 2015 showed a Garmin watch of the same model on his left wrist.
Confirmation that he owned the watch around the time of the murder meant that Fellows’ only defense was sheer coincidence. And, as prosecutor Paul Greany told jurors, “What we ask you, what are the chances of that? Mark Fellows, a man who is on the opposite side of a violent feud from Paul Massey, just happens to end up in the field behind the church opposite the home of Paul Massey, three months before he is shot dead.”
Clearly, jurors were sold and what could have been a cold case in Massey’s killing turned into a double murder conviction against Fellows.
Tech as a Tattletale
Fellows isn’t the first person to get snitched on by a smart device. In October, the New York Times reported that data from a Fitbit was used to charge a 90-year-old man, Anthony Aiello, in the murder of his step-daughter. According to the police report, data from the woman’s Fitbit was compared against surveillance footage to place Aiello at the scene of the crime immediately after her murder.
There was also a case in November in which a New Hampshire judge ordered Amazon to turn in recordings of an Echo smart speaker that was located in the home of a murder victim. That follows a separate Arkansas murder case in which Amazon capitulated after initially denying requests to turn over Echo recordings on First Amendment grounds. Citing a lack of evidence, charges against the defendant were eventually dismissed.
This is to say nothing of the criminal justice breakthroughs resulting from the widespread use of genetic testing sites like 23andMe. Using the open-source genetic database GEDMatch, cold case investigators were recently able to track down and arrest the Golden State Killer, a serial murderer and rapist who had eluded authorities for decades.
**If you liked this one, check out our latest piece on crime-solving and technology: From genetic genealogy to smart devices, tech is changing law enforcement**