In a murder trial featuring evidence of Google searches, jurors late Tuesday found former computer consultant Robert Petrick guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of his wife. He will serve a life sentence without possibility of parole. Prosecutors hadn't sought the death penalty.
Petrick, who represented himself during the North Carolina trial, is expected to appeal and has requested a court appointed lawyer. Jurors rejected Petrick's attempts to convince them that Google searches for the words "neck," "snap," "break," and "hold," uncovered on his hard drive, were done by another user.
Petrick also failed to persuade jurors that all the evidence against him was circumstantial and that prosecutors hadn't proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he killed Janine Sutphen and dumped her body in a Raleigh-area lake.
Prosecutors had seized several computers from Petrick's home after Sutphen, a concert cellist, disappeared in January 2003. They used evidence collected from the hard drives to make their case. Internet histories showed that showing someone used Google to search the terms neck, snap break and hold and reviewed a document entitled "22 Ways to Kill a Man With Your Bare Hands." They also said that someone had researched body decomposition and the topography of the lake where Sutphen's body was found.
Petrick, who's already in prison on fraud charges, pointed out that the searches weren't linked to a user name and therefore couldn't be pinned on him. He said his wife could have looked up some of the material because she had studied martial arts. He said someone who liked to fish or sail could have looked up the lake information. Investigators said they couldn't find other fishing or sailing-related searches.
Several witnesses testified that Petrick had a history of affairs, financial problems and deceit, which prosecutors said could have motivated Petrick to kill.