Expert witnesses offered testimony about burner phones and Facebook messages in the trial of two men charged with arson and murder in Hamilton, Ohio.
Patrick Wolterman’s Death
At 1 a.m. on December 28, 2015, an alarm went off at the home of Lester and Bertha Parker. The police officer who responded to the alarm discovered smoke coming from an open cellar door, “Heavy smoke coming out of it . . . too heavy to get close.”
The Hamilton Fire Department answered the call. One of the responding fireman, Patrick Wolterman, was injured when he fell from the first floor of the house to the basement. Wolterman later died in the hospital. The coroner’s investigator at the Butler County Coroner’s Office determined the cause of death to be smoke inhalation due to a house fire with carbon monoxide toxicity and thermal injuries as contributing conditions.
Officials from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Hamilton police and fire departments, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigated the cause of the fire.
Investigation and Arrests
The owner of the home, Lester Parker, and his nephew, William “Billy” Tucker, were charged with arson and murder for setting the fire that caused Wolterman’s death.
Prosecutors allege that Parker was having financial trouble and he came up with a plan to set fire to his home for insurance money. The prosecutors claim that Tucker agreed to light the fire for his uncle in exchange for pain pills. Both Parker and Tucker pleaded not guilty.
At trial, prosecutors called Jennifer Dillion of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to testify about cell phones, phone calls, and Facebook messages that she analyzed. Dillion was able to determine what cell phone towers calls originated from.
Data indicated that on the date of the fire, Parker used a cell phone that he owned from the Hamilton area and the Cincinnati area to call a phone in Kentucky that belonged to Stacy Tucker. There was also evidence of calls from a prepaid burner phone with a Las Vegas number to a pay phone in Hamilton, across the street from the hotel where prosecutors allege Tucker stayed after the fire.
Tucker’s Facebook account also contained information that referenced pain pills and a completed job. One message from before the fire said, “I will have plenty of pain pills after Monday, well Sunday . . . need to get there Sunday.” A message a few hours after the fire read, “Babydoll. Done with the job. Got to get some rest and call you tomorrow.”
Cellphone Tower Evidence Controversy
In recent years, courts around the country have issued conflicting rulings about the reliability of cellphone tower evidence. Some experts say that cellphone tower evidence is often misinterpreted. Michael Cherry, CEO of Cherry Biometrics, explained, “People tend to confuse the location of the cellphone with the location of the cell tower. . . . People like to say that the phone goes to the nearest tower. It goes to the clearest (signal) tower within range, not always the closest tower. You could be sitting on your living room couch and you could make four phone calls and each call would use a different tower.”