Court Examines Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' Cellphone In Criminal Case
Behind locked courtroom doors, a forensic expert extracted data from Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' cellphone and email on Tuesday, trying to determine whether he had taken a partially nude photo of a woman without her consent.
Greitens denies it, and prosecutors are looking for the alleged image.
The governor, a former Navy SEAL and a rising Republican star, stands accused of taking the photo and then threatening to release it if the woman spoke of their affair. Greitens has admitted they had an extramarital relationship.
The data from his phone and email were extracted for the felony invasion of privacy trial, which begins Thursday with jury selection. According to Missouri law, invasion of privacy includes creating a semi-nude or fully nude image without a person's consent, while he or she is expecting privacy.
"The examiner taped yellow paper over the windows in the doors to a courtroom before sitting down at a desk and beginning to extract data from the governor's cellphone," reported The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Greitens' defense lawyers had tried to stop both examinations.
On May 6, attorneys at law firm Dowd Bennett filed a motion to block the search warrant for Greitens' personal email address. The document, which was uploaded by the Post-Dispatch, stated that an investigator found an "uptick in activity" in Greitens' Gmail account after the announcement of an investigation and that "there may have been efforts to access or delete the photo in question." The investigator alleged that "most, if not all" of the activity was coming from Dowd Bennett itself.
That was "an absurd and unsupportable allegation," the defense stated in the document. "[The prosecution investigator] describes what would indisputably be normal activity ... that is, the law firm begins to investigate."
On May 4, Greitens' lawyers unsuccessfully argued that an examination of his phone would be an "abuse" of Missouri court rules that would also violate the governor's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Previously, the attorneys had said that the case should be thrown out because of misconduct — they alleged that prosecutors withheld evidence and that a private investigator hired by the prosecution had lied under oath.
Greitens' team has made a practice of aggressively filing motions to challenge each turn of the case, reported St. Louis Public Radio. And sometimes that tactic has worked. In April, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison granted the defense's request to do a second deposition of two key prosecution witnesses and the state's private investigator.
The third-party investigator will determine whether Greitens' cellphone and email data are relevant to the trial, reported KMOV, which added that it is not clear whether Greitens was using the same cellphone that would have been in use during his extramarital affair with the woman.
The governor has come under mounting pressure in the past few months. Greitens was charged in April with a felony — illegally obtaining a donor list from a veterans charity to raise money for his 2016 political campaign.
A St. Louis County attorney also sued him for using an app called "Confide," which automatically deletes messages, stating that the app violates Missouri's open records laws. It subpoenaed Attorney General Josh Hawley to turn over all documents after he found in March "no evidence of wrongdoing" by Greitens, the Associated Press reported.
Missouri lawmakers announced last week that they have scheduled a special session to consider impeaching Greitens. It is set for May 18.
Through it all, Greitens has rejected calls to resign.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.