FBI will help unlock another iPhone in Arkansas murder trial

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Seized iPhone and iPod may contain crucial evidence, say prosecutors.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Having reportedly gained access to the iPhone 5c at the center of the San Bernardino shooting case, the FBI has agreed to use its newfound hacking abilities to aid an Arkansas prosecutor unlock an iPhone and iPod belonging to two teenagers who stand accused of murdering a couple.

According to Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland, the FBI agreed to the request from his office and the Conway Police Department on Wednesday afternoon. The trial into the case had been postponed earlier this week after the judge agreed that the prosecutors could ask the Feds for help.

18-year-old Hunter Drexler’s trial will now take place on June 27. Drexler and 15-year-old Justin Staton are accused of killing Robert and Patricia Cogdell at their home in Conway, near Little Rock. Both have pleaded “not guilty” to charges including capital murder and aggravated robbery.

Drexler’s attorney, Patrick Benca, has confirmed that he was notified by the FBI that it has agreed to help unlock his client’s iPhone, although he says he is, “not concerned about anything on that phone.” Justin Staton’s iPod touch was also handed over as part of the investigation, since it had reportedly been used to communicate about the alleged homicide plan.

As I wrote yesterday, the Justice Department has been waging a war on smartphone encryption across the United States. While public opinion remains split on whether this is a good thing or not, the FBI’s willingness to help unlock iPhones not involved in the San Bernardino case does once again confirm that this was always about setting a precedent rather than simply unlocking one phone.

Source: Associated Press