TAMPA — What's on those 93 DVDs of data dug out of five computers in the Schenecker home? Is there evidence of the murders of two children that Julie Schenecker is accused of committing last year? Or are there military secrets of ex-husband Parker Schenecker, an Army colonel who specialized in the Middle East?
Both prosecutors and public defenders have copies of the DVDs produced by a state digital forensics lab, but neither side is able so far to translate all the data into something they can read or understand.
On Wednesday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody gave them 45 days before she rules on whether the data can be made public. She also asked the lawyers to think about what their computer conundrum means to the rules of discovery evidence and to fair trials.
Under the law, defendants are entitled to see all the evidence the state has against them. "My concern," the judge said, "is in this new age of electronic data, we're not giving the defense so much data that it's unsearchable."
It's a question being asked elsewhere, said professor Paul Ohm, who teaches computer crime law at the University of Colorado Law School.
"As we move into the computer age and cases are built on warehouses of information," he said, "that could be a very big problem for public defenders around the country.
"Sadly, this is all tied to how public defender offices get funded. They tend to be public institutions and the taxpayer is the one on the hook for making sure they have enough money to do everything they want to do. … And we're talking about expensive stuff here."
At Wednesday's hearing, Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said he didn't know what was on the DVDs when they were provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He still doesn't.
He said that out of fairness, he chose to give the defense all the data as he got it.
Pruner said his office will decipher the data in house, but the process will be slow, even using a software called EnCase that is the national standard for digital forensics. His counterpart, Assistant Public Defender Robert Fraser, said his office will turn the data over to a private company.
Neither gave an estimate of how much the deciphering will cost.
Schenecker is charged in the January 2011 shooting deaths of her two children, Calyx and Beau. No trial date has been set. Judge Moody asked the lawyers for an update on the data problem on March 14.
"Be mindful of our obligation," she said. "The defense needs data that is searchable and understandable."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this story. John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.