Arkansas Judge Drops Murder Charge in Amazon Echo Case
ARKANSAS — A judge dismissed a murder charge against an Arkansas man in a case that drew national attention when prosecutors sought evidence they believed was stored in an Amazon Echo speaker.
James Bates was charged with first-degree murder in the 2015 death of Victor Collins after a night of drinking and watching football. Collins was found floating face-down in Bates’ hot tub, police said.
County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith filed a motion on Tuesday to dismiss the case against Bates, saying the current evidence supports more than one “reasonable explanation” for Collin’s death, according to court documents obtained by CNN.
“I can’t stand in front of a jury and ask them to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt if I myself have a reasonable doubt,” Smith told CNN affiliate KNWA.
For that reason, the motion states, prosecutor was obligated to request the dismissal of Bates’ case at this time.
“I’m 100% innocent,” Bates told KNWA after the charges were dropped Wednesday. “I did nothing wrong, I’m not going to hide. I’m going to stay right here.”
The state has one year to refile charges against Bates but his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said it’s unlikely because prosecutors would need “new evidence.”
“Obviously we are very happy that the prosecution dismissed the case but also have empathy for the victim and the victim’s family. This is not a day of rubbing it on anyone’s face,” she added.
For Collins’ widow, Kristine, Wednesday’s decision was devastating.
“Prosecutors have let us all down today,” Kristine Collins said.
“I had to go home last night, sit down with my children and explain to them that the person that killed their father, who prevents them from Father’s Days and Christmases and a regular life, is going to continue to enjoy those things with his family without any recourse whatsoever for what he has done to mine,” she added.
The Amazon Echo entered the November 2015 murder case because someone present on the night of Collins’ death allegedly recalled hearing music streaming through the device that evening.
Amazon initially rebuffed the prosecution’s request but later provided the data after Bates said he would voluntarily hand over the recordings.
According to Amazon, Echo works by constantly listening for the “wake word” — “Alexa” or “Amazon,” by default — and then records your voice and transfers it to a processor for analysis so that it can fulfill requests or answer questions. The recordings are streamed and stored remotely, and can be reviewed or deleted over time, Amazon said.
On the night of the incident, Bates had invited two friends — one of them former Georgia police officer Collins, 47 — over to his Bentonville home. They watched college football, drank beer and vodka, according to the search warrant affidavit filed in Benton County Circuit Court. The men decided to get into Bates’ hot tub and Bates said he went to bed around 1 a.m. When he woke up the next morning, Collins was floating face-down in the hot tub, an affidavit said.
Bates’ attorney at the time, Kimberly Weber, said Collins was Bates’ friend, and his death was a tragic accident, possibly stemming from his drinking. Collins’ blood-alcohol content at the time of death was .32, four times the legal limit to drive in Arkansas, she said.