Television court dramas and John Grisham novels are full of instances where murder charges and other very serious accusations, are thrown out of court on technicalities. But that happens considerably less often in the real world. When it does happen, it’s a big deal. A big deal for the prosecutor’s office, for the defense attorney and for the person who just narrowly escaped what may have been a lifetime behind bars.
Reginald Collins was up against some very serious charges. However now, single counts of Open Murder, Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Felony Firearm, and Habitual Offender supplemental charges have all been dismissed. All because the cell phone data used by the prosecution wasn’t up to snuff.
According to police reports, the case against Collins began when a man named Richard Street was found dead in a woman’s backyard in Benton Harbor, Michigan on December 9, 2014. Benton Harbor is located in the southwest corner of Michigan, in Berrien County. Street had sustained a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. Further investigation by police in Berrien County revealed that people in the area the night before had heard gunshots between 8:30 and 10 pm.
A man named Timothy Lofton, whom police interviewed repeatedly following the discovery of Street’s body, finally admitted to seeing the murder take place. According to his account, he was driving through the alley behind 1250 Union Street when he saw Collins shoot Street.
Although subsequent interviews revealed a number of inconsistencies in Lofton’s version of events, the Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney was convinced that they could work those out. But it was the cell phone records collected from Lofton, Collins and Street from the evening of the murder that sunk their case.
According to court records, the issue with the cell data stemmed from an issue of time zones. The initial review of the data led prosecutors to believe that Collins was in South Bend, Indiana when he made a call on his cell phone at 7:44 pm. This would have taken place exactly one hour and 38 minutes before Lofton called Street on his cell phone, and also moments before the murder took place according to Lofton’s eyewitness account.
Initially prosecutors believed that the hour and a half window of time would have been sufficient for Collins to drive the 35 miles between his location and the address in Benton Harbor, Michigan where Street was shot. But further analysis by experts revealed that while the cell tower in South Bend was in the Eastern time zone, it is connected to a server in Illinois which operates in the Central time zone.
From this realization, prosecutor’s realized that in order for Collins to have been in Benton Harbor at the time of the murder, he would have had to travel 35 miles in 38 minutes. Not impossible, they decide, but not really probable, given the circumstances. So based on that fact, the prosecutor decided that the case wasn’t solid enough to take to trial.
Just like that, Collins, who had been looking at the likelihood of a lifetime in prison, was suddenly free to go. Almost. While the charges against him in Michigan are now dismissed, he is probably being extradited back to Georgia, where police say there is a probation violation warrant out against him.