Murder trial delayed for ‘unprecedented, critical’ Apple Watch evidence

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Apple Watch heart-rate monitor
Apple Watch heart rate monitor could help change the course of a murder investigation.
Photo: Apple

An Australian murder trial has been pushed back to January 2019 so that prosecutors can seek expert analysis of “unprecedented, critical evidence” taken from an Apple Watch worn at the time of the event.

As we’ve noted before, the Apple Watch has become a central piece of evidence in the Myrna Nilsson murder case because it appears to contradict testimony about the point at which the death took place.

The victim’s mother-in-law said that Myrna was killed in her home in 2016 by unknown assailants, but the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor suggests that the victim’s heart stopped beating significantly earlier than claimed.

“A watch of this type … contains sensors capable of tracking the movement and rate of movement of the person wearing it and it keeps a history of the wearer’s daily activity. It also measures the heart rate,” Adelaide prosecutor Carmen Matteo told told ABC News back in April. “The deceased must have been attacked at around 6:38 pm and had certainly died by 6:45 pm. This defendant did not foresee that the police would be able to discern time of death and other information from that device.”

While the Apple Watch in the case isn’t the only piece of evidence, it supposedly has helped exposed “two significant lies” in the case: that the victim did not argue with up to three men for a prolonged period, and that she did not die when it is claimed.

A report in May noted that relying on the Apple Watch as evidence in court is “brand new science” and may therefore not be admissible at trial.

It’s not clear to us from the latest news story about the case (which is hidden behind a paywall) exactly why the case has been pushed back, other than that it has to do with analyzing the “unprecedented, critical evidence” offered by the Apple wearable.

We suspect that, given the newness of this type of evidence, the prosecution will be glad of the extra time to carry out additional tests, shoring up the efficacy of the Apple Watch for this kind of diagnosis.

New kinds of evidence

This isn’t the first time that evidence from an Apple device has been used as evidence in a murder case. At the start of this year, we wrote about the way that data from the Apple Health app is being used as evidence in a trial concerning the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Germany.

The suspected murderer declined to give authorities his passcode when arrested. However, investigators were able to gain access to his iPhone, which revealed certain activity tracking behavioral traits which suggest what he was doing at the time of the murder.

In particular, activity registered as “climbing stairs” reportedly correlated with the time during which the suspect was supposedly dragging his victim down a river embankment, and then climbing back up again after disposing of her body.

Source: Adelaide Now (paywall)