Fitbit evidence focus of hearing for VanderHeyden murder suspect

(WBAY)
Published: Jan. 19, 2018 at 5:06 AM CST
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Evidence from a fitness tracker was the focus of a hearing for a man charged with killing a Brown County woman.

George Burch is charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide in the May 2016 murder of Nicole VanderHeyden.

The defense and prosecution went before a judge Friday to present arguments regarding data from a Fitbit device, and whether it should be allowed as evidence at Burch's trial.

Burch's attorneys want to point the finger at VanderHeyden's boyfriend, Douglass Detrie. The defense claims Burch and VanderHeyden met at a Green Bay bar the night of the killing, and Detrie caught VanderHeyden and Burch having sex in a car, giving Detrie motive to kill her. Burch claims Detrie knocked him out, then beat VanderHeyden to death and forced Burch at gunpoint to move her body.

VanderHeyden's body was found about three miles from the home she shared with Detrie on May 21, 2016. The cause of death was determined to be severe blunt force trauma to her head and strangulation.

The prosecution says Detrie's Fitbit data shows he was sleeping at the time of the murder. The state wants that data to be included in the trial.

Burch's defense wants it thrown out. They claim the evidence is unreliable, calling the data inaccurate. The defense is citing lawsuits filed against the company for inaccuracy of sleep and heart rate data.

On Friday, the judge asked the prosecution if they plan to call a Fitbit expert to the stand during the Burch trial. The state does not have an expert, but would call someone who is a regular user of a Fitbit.

The defense argued that an expert is necessary for effective cross-examination.

Judge John Zakowski did not make a decision on the Fitbit data Friday. He told the court he will work through the weekend to make a decision on whether or not an expert is required to take the stand. The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1.

Detrie was arrested after the murder, but released a little more than two weeks later because of a lack of evidence against him, and DNA evidence pointing to Burch. Prosecutors say Detrie was not a suspect in the murder.

Investigators say some DNA samples taken from VanderHeyden's body and clothing matched Burch. Burch was arrested on Sept. 8 and charged with VanderHeyden's murder.

The state suggests Detrie couldn't knock out Burch, who is 6'7" tall and 250 pounds, and beat VanderHeyden to death without causing any visible injuries to himself.

Burch's trial is set to start in the middle of next month.