On January 25, 2016, Michael Phillips was shot and killed in his home in Jonesboro, Georgia. Matthew Simonds, a detective with the Clayton County Police Department, was assigned the case. He and his team responded to the scene. There they found Mr. Phillip’s deceased from multiple gunshot injuries.
Multiple interviews took place the days following the homicide where Detective Simonds and his team learned this was the result of a drug deal gone bad.
Witnesses told the detective that a man by the name of “Capone” introduced Mr. Phillips to two other men who wanted to purchase marijuana. They also told investigators that Mr. Phillips was suspicious of the arrangement and called off the deal. However, Capone was seen talking to Mr. Phillips later and reassured him that he vouched for the men’s credibility.
The next day Capone and the same two men arrived at Mr. Phillips house. Witnesses, who were also there, told Detective Simonds that Mr. Phillips, “Capone,” and the two men went into the house supposedly to continue the drug deal from the night prior. They said a short time later they heard several gunshots from within Mr. Phillips home.
A man quickly exited the house carrying a handgun and a duffel bag. He ran to a car, a white Chrysler 300, got in and sped away from the scene. Capone and a woman who was with him also fled the scene in a separate vehicle. Witnesses ran into the house and found Mr. Phillips lying on the floor with a gunshot wound. He appeared to be dead.
Detectives used digital forensic tools on Mr. Phillips cellphone. They found text messages between him and Capone. They learned that Capone was brokering a drug deal between Mr. Phillips and the suspects. A search warrant issued to the phone carrier for records and subscriber information revealed more information.
The Call Detail Records (CDRs) were imported into CellHawk and revealed all the patterns in communications with everyone involved in the brokering of the drug deal. Detectives were quickly able to identify “Capone” as Tony Hardin, the passenger of the Chrysler as Tywan Porter, and the driver/gunman as Zalon Brown. Other records check revealed Mr. Brown owned a white Chrysler 300.
The CDRs not only showed the communications between the people involved but also could put them near the scene of the homicide at the time it occurred AND in the area the previous night.
Detectives requested arrest warrants for all three men for their participation in Michael Phillips murder.
During the trial, Detective Simonds showed the jury how CellHawk mapped out the CDRs for each suspect. The Prosecutor presented the CellHawk reports as demonstrative aids during the trial. The jury ultimately found Zalon Brown guilty of murder, and he received a life sentence.
“CellHawk was an invaluable aid, both for the initial investigation and for the presentation during the trial,” says Detective Simonds. “It is, without doubt, a tool that is necessary for analyzing phone records in criminal investigations and prosecutions.”