FLORENCE — A Pinal County jury heard testimony Tuesday from a cellphone tracking expert about a series of phone calls connected to a 2016 double homicide in Apache Junction.
The case involves the 2016 deaths of Keith Long and Renae Gardner, who were killed in their home in an Apache Junction trailer park.
Demian Blu, 44, is one of three men who were arrested in connection with the couple’s deaths. He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment or concealment of a dead body. His trial started last week.
Clint Wendelschafer, 34, of Tempe and Nicholas Douglas, 45, of San Tan Valley were also accused of murdering the couple. Wendelschafer accepted a plea agreement in December 2019 and Douglas is awaiting trial. Wendelschafer is expected to testify in Blu’s trial.
Through questions from prosecutors, Michael Pezzelle, a cellphone tracking expert from ZetX Corporation, explained how he is able to use data from various phone companies to track cellphones and how the data is generated.
He stated that there are only a few occasions where it would not be possible to track a person with cellphone data: when the phone is turned off, when it has been placed in airplane mode or when its service has been suspended because the owner is out of prepaid minutes.
However, a person might still be able to use the phone to surf the internet, chat through a message platform or in some cases make a phone call through a message platform using Wi-Fi, Pezzelle said. That information would not show up in the cellphone records because the person was not using the cellular phone network to connect to the internet.
Using the cellphone data, Pezzelle detailed for the jury a series of phone calls and the location of those calls between May 26 and May 27, 2016, between a number of members of the Loose Cannons motorcycle club, Wendelschafer and Douglas.
Prosecutors believe Long and Gardner were killed the night of May 25, 2016.
Pezzelle confirmed for prosecutors that Blu’s phone was not part of the May 26 and May 27 calls between members of the Loose Cannons, Wendleschafer and Douglas. He testified that the phone data for Blu showed what appeared to be a gap in his prepaid cellphone service between May 20 and May 27.
Prosecutors presented Pezzelle with a Walmart receipt that appeared to show that Blu may have purchased minutes to refill his phone around May 27.
Blu’s attorneys referred back to a statement by Pezzelle earlier in the day that cellphones will usually connect to the network via the cell tower with the best quality signal and not necessarily the tower that is closest to the person’s phone. They pointed to a particular incident in the case where the location of a cellphone during a call appeared to jump from Apache Junction to Florence Junction and back within a few seconds. Pezzelle agreed that that can happen.
They also pointed out that a tower that served the mobile home park, where Blu’s phone was typically located most days, also covered the Loose Cannons’ clubhouse, so it could be hard to tell if Blu was at the clubhouse or at the mobile home park. Pezzelle agreed that was possible.
Blu’s attorneys also had Pezzelle confirm that the cellphone data used to locate the phones in the case did not include the contents of the conversations that were had during the phone calls or the text messages that some parties sent back and forth.
Blu’s attorneys also highlighted the fact that the first call Blu made on his phone, once it was allegedly reloaded with minutes, was to a phone number that was not connected with any of the Loose Cannons or his co-defendants. Pezzelle confirmed the information. He also confirmed that he didn’t know for certain whom Blu had made that call to.
Once Blu’s attorneys were finished questioning Pezzelle, prosecutors asked him if it was possible for the location of a cellphone to be invisible to the network for a period of time because its owner had not received or sent out a text message or phone call for some time. Pezzelle confirmed that was possible depending on how the phone carrier operated the network.
Pezzelle also confirmed that he was hired to focus on investigating the cellphone data in the case and not conversations over social media between the various parties.
Pezzelle also answered a rare question from the jury. The jury has the option to ask questions of witnesses in the case.
Jurors asked if any of the cellphone data showed any of the phones near the locations where the bodies of Long and Gardner were found. Pezzelle said none of the phones he investigated showed up at a location near where the bodies were found.
The trial continues Wednesday.