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Woodrow Karey and Ronald Harris

Woodrow Karey and Ronald Harris

Judge signs search warrant for Karey's iPhone

Last Modified: Monday, June 16, 2014 10:50 PM

By Johnathan Manning / American Press

Prosecutors won’t be able to get into the iPhone of a man who allegedly shot a preacher unless he provides them with the passcode or Apple unlocks the phone for them.

Judge Clayton Davis signed a search warrant Monday for Woodrow Karey’s iPhone, which the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office will send to Apple.

A lawyer originally gave the Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office the passcode, but later retracted that permission when he learned he had been given incorrect information.

Davis said during a hearing that he could not order Karey to turn over the passcode.

“The defendant would seem to be the beneficiary of whatever’s on the cell phone,” Davis said. “If it’s retracted, it’s retracted and the state can’t use the passcode.”

Karey, 54, is accused of shooting Pastor Ronald J. Harris during a service at Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center on Sept. 27. Karey was arrested for second-degree murder, but a grand jury chose to indict him on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Karey reportedly called 911 to turn himself in, then told Calcasieu Sheriff’s deputies he killed Harris because Harris had raped his wife.

Law enforcement said text messages provided some corroboration of a relationship between Harris and Karey’s wife, but didn’t say whether that relationship was consensual.

Adam Johnson, one of Karey’s attorneys, initially provided the passcode to Karey’s cell to detective Beth McGee and another detective. He did so, however, because they told him the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office would be able to get into the phone inevitably through the Secret Service, according to a document filed in court by Johnson and fellow attorney Todd Clemons. Johnson provided the code to McGee on a sticky note, after she said she was certain law enforcement would be able to get into the phone.

Before Johnson left the Sheriff’s Office, McGee met him and told him she had given him incorrect information, the document said. She said the other officer told her that in some cases, “like with iPhones, the U.S. Secret Service hadn’t yet figured out how to bypass codes and access the phones.”

McGee apologized profusely and said she had not looked at the code and would not use it under any circumstances, the document said. McGee and Johnson returned to her office and she gave him the sticky note.

Because it could take up to 90 days for Apple to unlock the phone, the trial was reset for Sept. 15. Clemons filed a motion for a speedy trial.

“It’s an unusual circumstance,” prosecutor Carla Sigler said. “We did (believe that we could access the phone right away), and now we know that we absolutely can get into it and will get into it eventually.”

“It was represented back then that we could get into the phone, as of today we know that we can get into the phone,” District Attorney John DeRosier said. “They have retracted it, the judge has allowed them to retract it. That’s the end of that particular verse. Now we move on.”

Clemons and Johnson said they do not plan to turn over the code again, because they don’t know for certain that Apple will be able to unlock the phone.

“We don’t trust their assurances no more than we did the first time,” Clemons said. “These are the same people that assured us the first time that they could get into it. We tried to work with them and they gave their word on something that they couldn’t give their word on. Why should we assist them again?

“We all have a constitutional right to privacy and my client has the same thing. Whatever is in there is his private conversations, his private pictures, his private phone calls. It’s unrelated to the case and the state and the Sheriff’s Office have no constitutional right to be looking at it.”

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