By Augie Frost Modified: August 5, 2008 at 1:39 am •  Published: August 5, 2008
You may think you deleted that file from your computer. You might think emptying the recycle bin will erase it forever.

But deep in the recesses of your hard drive, the file remains intact and can be found — by someone who knows how to look.

The same is true for any device that stores data electronically, such as printers, cell phones and answering machines.

That saved one Oklahoma City detective who accidentally deleted a key confession from a voice recorder, said Oklahoma City police Sgt. Rob Holland, who heads up the computer forensics unit. Holland was able to find and restore the deleted file using special software.

Computer forensics is becoming a key component of solving crimes, but not just computer crimes, said Patrick Kennedy, lead computer forensics agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations. Electronic evidence has helped solve murders, rapes, robberies, child pornography cases and even has jailed a few officials.

"We're more than doubling our caseload each year,” Kennedy said. "People are becoming more computer savvy, and computers are more and more embedded in people's everyday lives.”

Clues for law enforcement
In years past, investigators would have to dissect only one computer with a 20 gigabyte hard drive; today they typically confiscate several computers with much larger hard drives. The amount of data they must sift through is often "daunting,” Kennedy said. But increasingly it's a necessary job.

More than half of all computer-based cases involve child pornography, Kennedy and Holland said. And in nearly every case, digital evidence can be extracted and used to prosecute, Holland said.

When homicide detectives have exhausted all leads, they might look at e-mails sent by the victim, what cell phone calls were made or even the person's Internet history, Holland said.

Such was the case in Weleetka, where Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, were shot to death June 8 on a rural road.

Investigators confiscated several computers the girls might have used to determine whether they could develop any leads, Kennedy said.

He would not say whether the computers have aided in the investigation, but said it never hurts to have one extra tool.

"If agents solve the case in two or three days without the computer, then fine,” Kennedy said.

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High-profile cases
Danny Brian Giacomo was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to 16 charges of lewd molestation, rape and sodomy. Giacomo, the band director at Hilldale High School, was convicted of having sex with two students, ages 14 and 15. OSBI investigators confiscated a work computer, a personal computer and other devices, on which they found evidence linking him to the crimes.

Oklahoma City
Paul O'Leary, former spokesman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority, was convicted of possessing child pornography in 2005. Investigators found hundreds of explicit images on his work computer and were able to track purchases of the images in two e-mail addresses he used.

Longtime police Capt. Danny O'Daniel pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in 2004 after investigators found images on his computer. He was sentenced to six years in prison after being on the run for a year but died of cancer before serving his term.


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