“The state has represented to the court that the evidence in this case can support more than one reasonable conclusion,” Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren wrote in a one-page order dismissing charges against James Andrew Bates.
Bates, 33, of Bentonville, has denied that he had anything to do with the death of Victor Collins, a friend who had been drinking at Bates’ residence before he was found face down in the hot tub on Nov. 22, 2015.
Collins’ death was ruled a homicide and evidence of a struggle and clean-up of the crime scene led authorities to charge Bates with first-degree murder and evidence tampering in February 2016.
As part of their investigation, prosecutors sought audio evidence from Bates’ Amazon Echo device. They claimed the smart speaker was streaming music the night of Collins’ death throughout the home, including the back patio, and could contain additional evidence related to the case. The Echo is designed to respond to the “wake” word, either “Alexa” or “Amazon,” and records what the user says to their cloud service.
But Arkansas prosecutors said Wednesday a re-examination of the evidence against Bates cannot eliminate “other reasonable explanations.” They consulted with the victim’s wife, law enforcement, and multiple expert witnesses before deciding they could not move forward with prosecution, according to their motion.
“The state is legally obligated to not pursue the case at this time,” Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith wrote in the court filing.
Gene Page, a spokesman for the Bentonville Police Department, told The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette that the department does not agree with Smith. Page said he had hoped the case would be heard by a jury, the paper reported.
For months, Amazon fought back requests from prosecutors for the audio evidence, saying in court documents earlier this year that information stored on the Echo device is protected by the First Amendment and customer privacy rights.
But the online retail giant dropped its legal challenge in March when Bates agreed to allow Amazon to hand over recordings from his Echo to state prosecutors.
Bates had been out on $350,000 bail. He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and up to six years if convicted of the tampering charge.