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Amazon Releases Audio Recordings From Echo Device In Bentonville Homicide Investigation

BENTONVILLE (KFSM) — On Friday (March 3) Amazon agreed to release audio recordings from an Amazon Echo device that could be used as evidence in a Bentonville homicide investigation.

In December, Amazon pushed back after investigators requested a search warrant to release the audio recordings, saying “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” On Feb. 17, the company filed a motion to quash the search warrant.

However, Amazon’s motion is now moot after the defendant in the homicide investigation, James Andrew Bates, 31, agreed to release the recordings to the state of Arkansas. Bates’ attorneys said he agreed to release the recordings because “he is innocent of all charges in the matter.”

Bentonville investigators found the Amazon Echo at Bates’ home, who was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder in February in connection to the death of Victor Collins, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Police found Collins’ body in Bates’ hot tub Nov. 2015 and a medical examiner ruled there had likely been a fight and Collins died from strangulation and drowning, according to a probable cause affidavit. Collins’ body had cuts and bruises and investigators found blood in the hot tub, the affidavit states.

After noticing the Echo in Bates’ kitchen, investigators requested a search warrant for all the audio recordings and data from the device, according to court records.

The search warrant states investigators believe the recordings and data are evidence in the case because “the device is constantly listening for the “wake” command of “Alexa” or “Amazon,” and records any command, inquiry, or verbal gesture given after that point, or possibly at all times without the “wake word” being issued, which is uploaded to Amazon.com’s servers at a remote location.”

The request for Amazon to release the records raised concerns about Amazon’s Echo and whether it can be used against people in court.

Benton County prosecuting attorney Nathan Smith released the following statement:

“I am pleased that we will have access to the data from the Defendant’s Echo device since the Defendant consented to its release. As with any case, our obligation is to investigate all of the available evidence, whether the evidence proves useful or not.  Since this case is ongoing, I cannot comment on the specifics of the recording or whether it will be used in court.”