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Schenecker computer records unlikely to be released soon

TAMPA — Julie Schenecker faces the death penalty if convicted of murder.

But the latest batch of potential evidence in her criminal case exists on DVDs not yet fully decipherable by the Public Defender's Office.

That's according to a motion her attorney filed Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, asking Circuit Judge Ashley B. Moody to relax the timeline for making those materials public.

"Defense counsel lacks the equipment or expertise to open the DVDs and must retain an expert to do so," defense attorney Robert A. Fraser wrote.

Schenecker is charged in the January 2011 shooting deaths of her two children, Calyx and Beau. No trial date has been set. A hearing on Fraser's motion is scheduled for 3 p.m. today.

On Jan. 4, prosecutors turned over 93 DVDs to the defense containing data derived from electronic devices at the Schenecker family home in New Tampa. There, investigators found five computers, a jump drive and five cellphones.

Thousands of files, including emails, are expected to be released to news outlets once the Public Defender's Office has reviewed them and has had an opportunity to voice challenges. (A few emails were released in December in connection with a wrongful-death lawsuit.)

In a May order, the judge said defense attorneys could take 30 days to review the material. But that won't be enough time, Fraser wrote. He asked the judge to allow monthly hearings to track progress.

Included in Fraser's motion were notes from a staff assistant describing the difficulties.

"The DVDs are too big for either our desktops or my laptop to even try to open," staff assistant Michelle Scully wrote.

Ninety discs appear to hold the downloaded content of up to five computers, captured by an EnCase program, she wrote.

EnCase, a line of hard-drive-probing software made by a California company, has become the national standard for analyzing data, said Paul Ohm, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Law School. He has a computer science degree from Yale and a law degree from UCLA.

"EnCase lets you look in parts of the computer that normal users will never get to see," he said. "The easiest example is the deleted file. Even if you empty the trash, that data will stick around for a little while, in some cases, a long while."

Back in Tampa, neither Fraser nor prosecutor Jay Pruner share Ohm's affinity for information technology.

"He's as illiterate when it comes to this stuff as I am," Fraser said of Pruner, while Pruner considers himself "a half step ahead of Bob."

When they took reports from staffers about the 93 new discs, they got sent in somewhat different directions.

Pruner learned that a special program would be needed to view the files, but he was assured that the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office has the program. It's still slow going, he said. The office is just getting started on the discs.

Defense attorney Fraser said the files seem to be foreign to the system at the Public Defender's Office. The staff has been able to decipher some of them but will likely need to hire an expert in computer forensics, he said.

"It slows us down a lot, because we have a tremendous mountain of information to review," Fraser said. "But there's no way to avoid it. It has to be reviewed."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or pryan@tampabay.com.

Schenecker computer records unlikely to be released soon 01/17/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 3:42pm]
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