FBI Agrees to Help Arkansas Prosecutor Unlock iPhone and iPod in Homicide Case

The FBI has agreed to help an Arkansas prosecutor unlock an iPhone and iPod that belong to two teenagers accused of killing a couple, reports the Associated Press. The move comes days after the FBI announced that it had unlocked the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.

Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said the FBI agreed to the request from his office and the Conway Police Department Wednesday afternoon. A judge on Tuesday agreed to postpone the trial of 18-year-old Hunter Drexler so prosecutors could ask the FBI for help. Drexler’s trial was moved from next week to June 27.

Hiland said the FBI agreed to help less than a day after the initial request was made. “We always appreciate their cooperation and willingness to help their local law enforcement partners,” Hiland said. Patrick Benca, Drexler’s attorney, said he was notified the FBI agreed to help and that he was “not concerned about anything on that phone.”

The prosecuting attorney said that they had heard the FBI had been able to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone and wanted to see if they could help, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Drexler, along with 15-year-old Justin Staton, are accused of killing Robert and Patricia Cogdell last July. The couple raised Staton as their grandson. After the two teens were arrested in Texas and brought to Arkansas shortly after the shootings, prosecutors gained possession of Drexler’s iPhone. Last week, Staton’s defense attorney was ordered to hand over his iPod, which was in the defense attorney’s evidence locker.

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Prosecutors argue that Staton had indicated on phone calls that he had used his iPod to communicate about the murders and that further evidence might be on the device. It’s unclear which iPhone and iPod the suspects used and which iOS version they’re running.

An FBI official told the LA Times that the FBI is unlikely use the tool that was used to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone for criminal prosecutions because the method could be discovered during a trial. Furthermore, the method used to unlock that phone might not work with other phones, according to the official.

“In a criminal case, if the FBI uses a technique, there’s going to be questions about divulging that technique or chain of custody to the defense,” Eric Crocker, Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney, told the LA Times. “So my instinct is this might be something different.”

Last week, shortly after the Department of Justice said that it discovered a “possible method” for unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s device, it was reported that the FBI enlisted Israeli firm Cellebrite to unlock it.