Judge rules that cellphone data can be used at murder trial

Duane Meyer is charged with deaths of ex-wife, son

An Ogle County sheriff's deputy escorts first-degree murder defendant Duane Meyer into court on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

OREGON – An Ogle County judge ruled Oct. 27 that cellphone data that purports to show Duane Meyer was in Byron when his ex-wife was killed can be used at his trial.

“The Verizon records and Rascke’s testimony have been reviewed and they are admissible,” said Judge John “Ben” Roe during the short hearing.

Judge John B. Roe was makes a ruling in the Duane Meyer pretial hearing on Oct. 27.

Meyer, 40, of Stillman Valley is in jail on $10 million bond, charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated arson and one count of concealment of a homicidal death in connection with the Oct. 19, 2016, house fire in Byron which Maggie Meyer, 31, was found dead and their son, 3-year-old Amos Meyer, died.

Meyer told investigators he was not in Byron on Oct. 18, but FBI analyst Joseph Rascke has cellphone tower data that shows otherwise, the prosecution said.

Meyer said he arrived at the home about 6:30 that morning to pick up Amos. He found the house on fire, grabbed Amos from a room upstairs and tried to resuscitate him on the front lawn; the boy was pronounced dead a short time later at a Rockford hospital.

Maggie’s body was found on a couch on the first floor.

According to the prosecution, data on Meyer’s phone showed it was hitting off the cell tower on Barker Road in Byron from 5 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 18. After that, it was sending a signal to the cell tower on East Hales Corner Road in Stillman Valley.

At 11 a.m. the next day, on Oct. 19, a detective spoke to Meyer at his parents’ house on East Hales Corner Road in Byron. Meyer told the detective that he was at his family’s farm in Chana until 11 a.m. on Oct. 18, then went to his home in Stillman Valley. He said he left around 5 p.m. to go bow-hunting on the farm.

He was in Chana until about 9 p.m., then went back to his Stillman Valley home, were he stayed until about 6 a.m. the next morning, when he left to pick up Amos. Chana is outside the Barker Road tower coverage area.

State’s Attorney Mike Rock and Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Leisten argued to introduce maps and testimony by Rascke, a member of the FBI’s cellular analyst support team, who “plotted the estimated locations” of Meyer’s cellphone on Oct. 18 and 19, using methods he has employed in hundreds of cases.

Such analytical evidence has been allowed in state and federal courts for well over a decade, and Rascke has testified multiple times as an expert in cell-site analysis, despite defense objections, Leisten told Roe in a previous hearing,

In his motion asking the judge to exclude Rascke’s maps and testimony, defense attorney Christopher DeRango, of Rockford, argued that the cellphone records Rascke uses were “Palmer records,” or records that were prepared by a company, in this case, Verizon, for the sole purpose of litigation, not records created during the normal course of business for reasons that benefit the business.

Roe disagreed. “This is not a new or novel technique and it goes to the weight of the charges. The defense motion is denied,” Roe said.

Meyer’s next status hearing for Thursday, Dec. 15 at 11 a.m.

(Kathleen Schultz contributed to this story)

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 9 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.