Accuracy of cell phone location data debated in murder case
A Webster County District Court judge heard more testimony and arguments on Friday over whether cell phone location data should be admissible at an upcoming murder trial.
Lakendrick Mosley, 31, is charged with first-degree murder for the Dec. 25, 2022, shooting death of 46-year-old Montreail Dungy. Mosley’s trial is scheduled to start later this month in Cerro Gordo County. The defense previously motioned to have the trial moved out of Webster County.
On Friday, a hearing on suppressing cell phone location data in the case was resumed after being continued on Wednesday afternoon with testimony from Kristofer Lyon, a digital forensics specialist with the Office of the State Public Defender. Lyon testified that the location data that can be extracted from a phone or provided by a cellular provider isn’t very accurate or precise.
Lyon testified that he used the data provided by U.S. Cellular in this case and plugged it into a mapping program to map the longitude and latitude points of where Mosley’s cell phone was around Christmas of last year. He showed a digital rendering of the map, which showed thousands of small red dots that indicate the cell phone’s location data. He noted that there was wide variation and spread of the data points across the map of Fort Dodge and that it “gives him pause” about the accuracy and precision of the data.
“I don’t have much trust in the accuracy or precision of these estimates of the device’s location,” Lyon said.
Assistant Attorney General Ryan Baldridge asked Lyon about his training on interpreting cellular location data and why he focused on the longitude and latitude data rather than the timing data that estimates the distance from a cell tower to a device. Lyon testified that he wasn’t asked about the timing data.
Baldridge asked Lyon what set of data he believed would be more accurate to the real-time location of a device. Lyon said there are several ways to estimate location, but that the timing data could be more accurate.
“It’s clear that the state intends to use this cell phone data to map locations and track people,” defense attorney Jenny Van Kekerix argued. “Mr. Lyon’s testimony today explained that that isn’t what this data is meant for. It’s not meant to track people or locate phones and it’s unreliable for that purpose.”
Baldridge argued that the data is “certainly relevant” and that the information relied on by the defense from their expert’s testimony is less accurate than the timing data the state intends to use when prosecuting the trial.
Webster County District Court Judge Angela Doyle said she would take the testimony and arguments into consideration for the cell phone data issue, as well as a few other contested issues, prior to trial and issue a written ruling.
The state alleges that Mosley shot and killed Dungy while the victim sat in his own car and that Mosley’s half-brother, Darwin Green, 26, drove the getaway car. Mosley and Green were apprehended and charged with the death in late March.