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(Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)

(Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)

Cell records discussed during murder trial

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 09, 2012 12:41 PM

By Taylor Prejean / American Press

Prosecutors in the second-degree murder trial of Robyn Little Davis and Carol Noland Saltzman rested their case Tuesday after the testimony of a cell site analysis expert. 

Davis and Saltzman are accused of killing Davis’ husband, Brian, on June 29, 2009.

FBI Special Agent William Shute showed jurors a detailed presentation of where the women’s cellphones were located when they made and received calls on June 28 and 29, 2009.

His findings were based on call detail records obtained from the suspects’ cellular providers. Shute’s analysis placed the defendants’ and the victim’s cellphones in the area near the Wagon Wheel Lane crime scene on the day Brian Davis was killed.

Shute said records show Robyn Davis placed a call to Saltzman while she and her husband were, as she said in her statement, near Jerry’s Marine in Sulphur shortly before 3 p.m. June 29. Robyn Davis’ records confirmed the location, but Saltzman’s records showed that she was in a cell sector near Lake Charles Regional Airport. Saltzman used another cell service provider, and so was using different cell towers than Davis’ phone, Shute said.

In Saltzman’s statement to police, she said she remained at her home on Leon Drive until Robyn Davis picked her up to run errands after 3 p.m.

Shortly before 4 p.m., Robyn Davis made a call that originated in one sector of a cell site and ended in a neighboring sector. The cell site was south of Lake Charles, encompassing the area near the crime scene.

Shute said Davis would have had to have been traveling between the sectors or was in the area where the sectors meet. Based on that information, Shute said he can place Robyn Davis’ phone within a half-mile to five miles of the slaying scene during the time investigators believe Brian Davis was killed.

Shute said that about 40 minutes later, Robyn Davis’ cell records show she was in a cell sector encompassing the dry cleaners and grocery store that she and Saltzman told police they visited that afternoon.

Maurice Tynes, counsel for Davis, pointed out that just because investigators know the location of a phone, it doesn’t mean they necessarily know the location of a person.

Tynes questioned the reliability of Shute’s methods and whether its success rate has been peer-reviewed. Shute maintained there is no rate of error because “either the cell sites were utilized or they were not.”

In his court presentation, Shute said he clocked the driving time from Jerry’s Marine to the crime scene as about 30 minutes.

Tynes said that during the time the Davises would have been heading that way, a pontoon bridge near Fred’s Lounge on Big Lake Road was closed to traffic for 16 minutes, throwing off the state’s timeline of events.

Under redirect questioning from prosecutor Cynthia Killingsworth, Shute said that if Robyn Davis had been driving near the edge of the cell site near Jerry’s Marine, she could have crossed the bridge before it was raised. Shute’s calculations were also based on a vehicle going the speed limit, and he said driving just 5 mph above the speed limit could decrease that time.

After Shute’s testimony, the state rested its case.

The first defense witness said he was retained by attorneys to use a cellphone to make calls from various locations, including the crime scene, so the records could be analyzed and compared with Shute’s findings.

The witness, Brian Arceneaux, said he also made calls from Jerry’s Marine, Calcasieu Point, and north and south of the pontoon bridge.

When Saltzman’s attorney, Shane Hinch, tried to introduce the resulting cell records into evidence, prosecutors objected, claiming the phone Arceneaux used operated on a different cellphone network than the one used by Davis and Saltzman.

Judge David Ritchie sustained the objection and said the records could not be used.

Tynes then called communications expert John Minor to the stand. Minor claimed Shute’s conclusions were biased and unreliable.

Minor said there are many variables that determine which cell sites phones will select when making calls, including weather, obstructions and tower maintenance.

Minor’s testimony will pick up today at 9 a.m. Ritchie told jurors the evidence part will likely end today and that closing arguments could begin Thursday.

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