Data experts detail suspect's phone records leading up to Fort Drum corporal's death
By Kyle Morel, New Jersey Herald,2023-06-09
Jurors in the trial of a Fort Drum soldier accused of killing a U.S. Army corporal got a look Thursday at data collected from the defendant's cell phone, providing a timeline leading up to and shortly after the victim's body was discovered.
The hearing in Sussex County Superior Court included testimony from Anthony Wingate and Alan Feinstein, digital analysts in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, who were questioned by county Assistant Prosecutor Sahil Kabse about the findings from Jamaal Mellish's phone.
Hannan Aiken, who was a juvenile at the time of the crime, is also being charged with Harris' murder. Mellish and Aiken are being tried together and are represented by attorneys Joel Harris and Matt Young, respectively.
The data, collected through GPS tracking, Wi-Fi locations and cell tower triangulation, shows the location of Mellish's phone beginning on the morning of Dec. 17, 2020, the day before firefighters found Harris' body in a wooded area off Ross Road.
The phone was in Brooklyn in the morning and traveled through New Jersey before reaching a parking lot in Glen Park, New York, near the Army base shortly before 6 p.m. Mellish's vehicle containing the device then went to the parking lot of a nearby Walmart before returning to the Glen Park location around 8 p.m., Feinstein said.
Mellish and Harris had planned to meet at the Glen Park location to give back vehicles they had exchanged months earlier, but Mellish and Aiken instead forced Harris into his own truck at gunpoint, according to prior New Jersey Herald articles.
After leaving Glen Park, the phone data indicates Mellish returned to New Jersey and arrived at the end of the Ross Road cul-de-sac at approximately 12:57 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 18. The phone was in the area for approximately seven minutes before Mellish got back on the highway, heading eastbound across the George Washington Bridge into New York City.
At 2:15 a.m., the vehicle turned around and began heading west again, Feinstein said. After getting off at the wrong exit four times, the data shows the phone in the vehicle returning to Ross Road at 3:49 a.m., where it remained for about 30 minutes.
Wingate's testimony featured logs of text messages between Mellish and various acquaintances in the months and days before Harris' murder. The messages referenced issues with the vehicle swap between Mellish and Harris and included conversations about Harris himself.
Mellish also had photos of Harris from his Facebook page on his phone, along with three images of guns that were added to the device Dec. 12, Wingate said. The gun pictures were deleted on the afternoon of Dec. 18, shortly after Mellish received a call from a Fort Drum officer whom he spoke to for about eight minutes, records show.
Superior Court Judge Michael Gaus ruled that the jury can decide for themselves whether the gun photos are considered "intrinsic evidence," meaning evidence that "facilitated the commission of the crime charged." If jurors do not determine the photos constitute intrinsic evidence, he said, they can still consider them as evidence if they find Mellish committed a criminal act.
Feinstein's testimony is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Monday.