Thanks to some quick work at Seagate Recovery Services, a confessed rapist will get the punishment he deserves after almost wriggling out of a harsher sentence because the most important piece of evidence was believed lost forever.
Forty-year-old Michael Barnes is currently behind bars in a Santa Cruz County, Calif., jail awaiting sentencing. He faces more than 20 years in prison for raping three women and kidnapping one of them.
In January of 2008, Barnes went to a local bar and allegedly kidnapped and raped a woman he met while there. After the victim reported the crime, she was interviewed by a deputy sheriff who used a video recorder to document the testimony. Later the video data was transferred to a DVD.
The deputy successfully filmed the interview, but he filed a rambling, error-filled, conflicting report that raised a lot of questions with the court.
It turned out that the DVD, which recorded the victim's testimony and emotions immediately after the crime took place, hadn't been burned correctly. The original tape in the camera became corrupted, preventing any further DVD copies.
Barnes had originally pled guilty in the rape/kidnapping case. Then the defense in the case claimed in court that the testimony on the then-inaccessible DVD contained exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated Barnes.
Without the video and after the trial judge refused to accept the deputy's garbled report as evidence, Barnes' attorney argued that his client should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. But the judge disallowed the request -- dependent upon viewing the video.
However, without the video record of the victim's statement after the attack, it looked like Barnes would be eligible for a lesser sentence.
DVD Looked Like a Lost Cause
A local data recovery business tried to restore the video but claimed that the data would never be recovered, frustrating both the victim and Andrew Isaac, the district attorney trying the case. Isaac tried for two weeks-and spent a large sum of money in the process-to extricate the video data from the DVD and move it onto one that could be viewed. No one could do it, inside the DA's office or outside.
"We had no way to prove to the judge that the testimony on the DVD was actually incriminating evidence," Isaac said. "So there was a great deal of interest in getting the video back so we could view it."
As it turned out, Isaac had a friend who suggested he have the data recovery department of the company he worked for, Seagate Technology, try to get the data off the faulty disk. So Isaac, facing a court deadline, brought the original recording to SRS (Seagate Recovery Services), hoping for nothing less than a miracle.
In less than 24 hours, he got one: The victim's testimony was completely recovered, and the prosecutors had their airtight case evidence against Barnes.
'Opener' and 'Closer' Files on DVD Re-created
"What had happened was that the 'data opener' files, and probably the 'data closing' files, too, hadn't been completely formed, when the video was recorded," Jay Remley, president of Seagate Recovery Services, told me.
"So when we received the video, our technician discovered that right away. Our guy, Bob, stayed late that night and re-created the opening and closing bits that the video lacked for common DVD equipment to read. That was what did it. He used our specialized tools to help, and the whole recovery process worked."
Isaac then had his video evidence. Barnes is now engaging in legal efforts to delay the sentencing, which will probably take place in the next couple of months, Isaac said.
"It was really fortuitous that I found Seagate. I really don't know what we would have done, otherwise," Isaac told me. "There are a lot of examples of when data is forensically significant. This was definitely one of those cases."