Evidence on hard drives suggests someone else harassed Amanda Todd, defence says

Evidence recovered from a pair of hard drives seized at the Dutch cabin where the man accused of harassing and extorting B.C. teen Amanda Todd was arrested, suggests someone else was actually behind the accounts that tormented her, his lawyer told a jury Wednesday.

Aydin Coban, 44, has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including possession of child pornography, extortion, criminal harassment and communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence.

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The trial has hinged on the identity of what the Crown has called the “sextortionist” that used 22 online aliases to sexually blackmail the teen over four “episodes” before she took her life in 2012. The Crown’s theory is built on two propositions: that one person operated all of the accounts, and that the one person is Coban.

On Wednesday, defence lawyer Joseph Saulnier told the 12-member jury that evidence from the two drives tells a different story.

Facebook records for several of the aliases presented at trial showed the extortionist using operating systems and Internet browsers through 2012 and into late 2013 that were not found on either hard drive, he told the court.

“This is a significant hole in Crown’s theory,” he said.

“This is actually evidence of people accessing these Facebook accounts from other devices, from other computers … evidence of other people using these Facebook accounts.”

Saulnier also sought to raise doubt about the data recovered from the drives themselves.

RCMP digital forensic expert Sgt. Keith Hack testified he found “fragments” of data suggesting Facebook logins by seven of those aliases, Saulnier recalled for the jury.

Records from Facebook itself, however, don’t show logins from those accounts at concurrent times, he said.

“When we see fragments of Facebook activity, we should be able to say, is it in the Facebook record? And five of seven don’t align,” he said.

No “cookies” from Facebook — small text files generated by websites — were located on the devices either, he added. Hundreds of thousands of the same type of file were recovered from Todd’s computer, he noted.

In addition, he told the court, no data recovered from either drive referenced aliases used in the spring of 2011 during “episode three.”

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Saulnier also attacked the Crown’s theory that similarities in language and content in the messages Todd received, along with references to previous messages, proved they came from one person.

He pointed to online communities of so-called “cappers,” people who screen-capture other people’s videos and share them online, noting that one or more people involved in that activity could have been cooperating to harass the teen.

“I say Crown established there are connections between these accounts … I agree, it is not a coincidence. That doesn’t mean it’s the same person,” he told the jury, highlighting a variety of discrepancies in the punctuation and syntax of messages from different aliases.

Regardless of the contents of the drives located at the bungalow where Coban was arrested, there is no reason to conclude they belonged to the accused, Saulnier told the jury.

The trial has heard evidence Coban worked as a “computer guy,” who repaired computers and replaced hard drives.

The Crown has argued Coban was the sole owner and operator of the two hard drives, and that while he may have had a job “swapping out hard drives,” it wouldn’t explain their repeated connection to other devices he owned.

“The evidence was not just that Mr. Coban had only swapped out hard drives and that’s all he did… he repaired computers, he was a computer guy,” Saulnier said.

“It does make sense that Mr. Coban, if he’s looking at someone else’s device, he’s going to connect it to something.”

Both drives had sat unused for some time in a box and one of them was damaged, he told the court.

Neither of the drives had data suggesting a “regular user” according according to Sgt. Hack’s testimony, and one of them had a Spanish operating system, a language Coban doesn’t speak, Saulnier recalled for the jury.

Coban’s defence also sought to raise doubts about the Dutch police investigation that resulted in his arrest.

Saulnier raised questions about a covert operation in which Dutch investigators installed surveillance equipment and keylogging software in Coban’s bungalow the month before his arrest.

Citing testimony from forensic investigators on discrepancies in dates and times of events logged on the devices, he suggested the software could have contaminated data on the computers — including records around a Skype account the Crown alleges was linked to the extortionist and running minutes before his arrest.

Saulnier recalled Dutch police had no record of chain of evidence for items seized from the bungalow, and referring to photos taken by police, suggested they had moved items inside the cabin and been inconsistent in wearing gloves on site.

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“This all raises questions. It’s my submission you should be able to feel confident that you can rely on what was found in the search, the photographs of what was found in the search, the evidence of what was found on these devices,” he said.

“This is an important piece of evidence for you to consider in determining the guilt of someone beyond a reasonable doubt. You should have some assurance of reliability. There is serious questions about that.”

Earlier in the day, Saulnier sought to convince the jury that the Crown had not met the threshold for conviction on possession of child pornography.

No videos of any kind were located on any of the seized devices, he noted, adding that sharing a link to a video of child pornography does not equate to possession of the file itself.

Coban’s defence did not call any witnesses in the nine-week trial, and until Tuesday, the court had only heard from them in cross-examination.

On Tuesday, Saulnier told the 12-member jury that Crown prosecutors, relying on circumstantial evidence, had not proved — beyond a reasonable doubt — that Coban was their author.

The two key parts of the Crown’s identification are a phone number used to register one of the extortionist’s social media profiles, that witnesses linked to a photo of Coban, and a Skype profile the Crown says is linked to another key alias running on a computer in the bungalow where Coban was arrested minutes before the takedown.

The Crown has also focused on the two hard drives it says contain a “treasure trove” of data.

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Todd took her own life in 2012 after enduring three years of online harassment. She became known worldwide for a YouTube video she produced shortly before her death where she silently held up cue cards describing her torment.

The Crown alleges Coban mounted a “persistent campaign of sextortion” against the teen using nearly two dozen online profiles. He is accused of obtaining a video of the teen showing her breasts, then using it to try and pressure her to perform pornographic webcam “shows,” and in some cases sending a link of the video to her family, friends and schoolmates.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sextortion, sexual assault or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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