Vt. Supreme Court considers cellphone data used in Burlington murder conviction

Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 6:17 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Supreme Court is weighing whether cellphone location data should have been used in a 2015 Burlington homicide case.

A Burlington jury in 2018 found Chavis Murphy guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Obafemi Adedapo. Now serving a 20 to life sentence, Murphy’s lawyers argue his conviction should be tossed.

Lawyers on both sides had oral arguments two weeks ago before the high court in the 2015 homicide that happened just days after Christmas.

Several witnesses put Chavis Murphy at the scene of the shooting just outside of the former Zen Lounge on lower Church Street. Witnesses also told police that Murphy interacted with Adedapo just before the shots were fired.

Police concluded Murphy was a good suspect after not finding him at home. Officers requested an immediate ping of his cellphone from AT&T to track him down. That led to his eventual arrest in Massachusetts.

“Forensic electronic evidence is a very powerful thing to have,” said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo back in 2015.

But was that information legal to obtain? Murphy’s lawyers argue a ping is a search and that a warrant was needed. Police didn’t get a warrant until a day after the ping was requested. Now, the defense wants any evidence found as a result of the ping to be tossed.

“It’s our position that the location itself and the statements made at arrest and the evidence in the hotel room would all be suppressed,” argued Dawn Matthews, Adedapo’s lawyer.

Chavis Murphy/File
Chavis Murphy/File(WCAX)

The state says the warrantless ping was protected because it was done under “exigent,” or pressing circumstances. They argued that a potential killer on the loose would be enough for the ping without a warrant. “The exigency is to ensure there isn’t another shooting,” said Chittenden County Dep. State’s Attorney Andrew Gilbertson.

The defense also argues that the court should have given better guidance on how the jury should not treat evidence of flight as evidence of guilt.

“Without the evidence of flight, does this case survive the motion for judgment of acquittal?” asked Justice Harold Eaton.

“It does, and the trial court found the same thing. The trial court found that that was not necessary to the jury’s verdict,” Gilbertson responded.

It’s not clear when the court will issue its finding.

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