The FBI agreed on March 30 to help Arkansas officials unlock Apple devices belonging to two teenagers who allegedly killed a couple.
The decision comes just days after U.S. authorities said they did not need the Cupertino-based company’s help to unlock an iPhone that belonged to San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple had refused to help authorities unlock the device, and was in a legal dispute with the FBI over the matter.
Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said authorities approved the request from his office and the Conway Police Department to unlock the devices, while a judge agreed to postpone the trial so officials could ask the FBI for assistance.
“The iPod had just come into our possession a couple of weeks ago,” Hiland told the Los Angeles Times.
Drexler and two other teenagers were arrested in Texas and brought back to Arkansas after the homicides.
“Obviously when we heard that [the FBI] had been able to crack that phone we wanted to at least ask and see if they wanted to help,” he added.
Hunter Drexler, 18, and Justin Staton, 15, are accused of murdering Robert and Patricia Cogdell, both 66, at their home in Conway, north of Little Rock, last summer. The couple had raised Staton as their grandson.
The defendants have both pleaded not guilty to capital murder, aggravated robbery, and other charges.
Prosecutors already had possession of an iPhone that is believed to be Drexler’s after he and two other teenagers were arrested in Texas and brought back to Arkansas after the homicides.
The officials said recorded phone conversations between Staton and other individuals suggest that he had used the iPod to communicate about the murder plans. They also claim there may be further evidence on the device.
Authorities have not disclosed whether the iPhone and iPod in the Arkansas homicide case are the same models as Farook’s, nor whether the FBI will use the same method it used to break into that phone.
“We always appreciate their cooperation and willingness to help their local law enforcement partners,” he said.
Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group in San Francisco, told the Los Angeles Times that he doubts the Arkansas homicide case is similar to the situation involving Farook’s phone.
“In a criminal case, if the FBI uses a technique, there’s going to be questions about divulging that technique or chain of custody to the defense,” Crocker told the Los Angeles Times.
“So my instinct is this might be something different,” he added.
Meanwhile, prosecutor Hiland said he’s not concerned with setting a precedent with his case, and that he simply wants access to all the available evidence.
“Our focus is on the case,” he said. “Our job is to seek justice.”