Happy Valentines Day! Now DIE!!
By: Kelly Burke 03/21/2015
A not terribly sympathetic victim provides this week’s look into the admissibility of cell phone records in a criminal case in Georgia. A nice lady, Lynitra Ross, worked with a co-worker, Stacey Schoeck. Mrs. Schoeck confided in Ross that she wanted to have her husband killed because she thought he was molesting her boys. Ross said that she just happened to have a boyfriend who did that work “on the side.” Now me, I’ve got lots of acquaintances, but to my knowledge, none of them do contract murders for hire. Ross however, has a more varied range of friends than I.
The deal was made for an Impala car and $10,000. Ross’ boyfriend, a dude named Coleman, would do the killing. Schoeck bought the gun and gave Coleman the plan. Mrs. Schoeck gave Coleman the Impala and $8,900. Coleman however declined until paid in full, abiding by the age old maxim, “no honor among thieves.” Mrs. Schoeck paid up and the deal was put into motion. Poor ol’ Mr. Schoeck was gunned down, as planned, on Valentine’s Day in a hail of bullets.
As with many such escapades, the deal wasn’t quite as faultless as planned. Coleman didn’t make it look like a robbery and he left tire tracks. But mostly, there were way too many phone calls and text messages between all of them. The PoPo, doing a good and thorough job, obtained consent from Mrs. Schoeck to search her cell phone. She had nothing to hide, right? I mean, surely she removed Coleman and Ross from her contacts list, right? Nah, she left them in her contact list. The police requested a cell tower “dump” of the local cell towers. A “dump” is when the police get records of ALL of the phone calls that went through that tower for a defined period of time. As a result of that dump, the police find phone calls from Ms. Schoeck, Ross and Coleman. Now I’m not a cop, but if I were, I’d sure want to take a look at anyone that the victim’s spouse was talking to around the time of the spouse’s murder. So the cops did just that. And guess what? All those text and phone calls between Ross, Schoeck and Coleman were there. Ms. Schoeck, under the intense lights of interrogation, ended up spilling the beans on Ross and Coleman.
So Ross goes to trial. Her complaint was that the cops didn’t have a warrant for the cell phone dump. She cited to some federal law that purports to protect those records, but that law says that if someone violates your privacy in that manner, you have a civil remedy but suppression of your stupid phone calls in a criminal case is not an option. The other issue that she lost on is what we call “standing.” That is, did Ross have the legal right to complain? And the Court said no. You see, the records belong to Sprint, not Ross. It’s no different than a cell phone bill, which also isn’t protected. The contents of the call, what was actually said, is protected and the police needed a warrant for that. But Mrs. Schoeck caved way before the police had to go that far.
So is Ross serving a life sentence for merely putting Schoeck and Coleman in touch with each other? Certainly it was enough to just put them in touch, but Ross’ text message “Happy Valentine’s Day” telling Schoeck of the completion of the murder probably hurt Ross’ case with the jury.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock’n’roll and politics. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at email@example.com to comment on this article or suggest articles that you’d like to see.