In the days leading up to his wife’s murder, Robert James Petrick used Google to search the terms “body decomposition,” “rigor mortis,” “neck” and “break.” He also went online to research the depth, currents and underwater topography of the lake in which his wife’s body was found. This evidence helped lead to Petrick’s conviction in Durham, N.C., last week of first-degree murder.
As eWeek reports this week in its story, Search Terms Are a Witness for the Prosecution, the case illustrates how police and prosecutors now routinely hunt for evidence among a suspect’s online searches. And it is a practice that is causing concern among privacy advocates, since someone’s search terms offer a “wide-open, window into their political and religious beliefs, daily activities, investments, and identity, more so than an e-mail or a Web page they might have downloaded.”
- Further reading: Petrick Convicted in Wife’s Slaying.