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Judge: Private Facebook messages fair game at arson trial

October 27, 2015

A judge has declined to prevent private Facebook messages from being considered as evidence at the trial of two people charged in an Evansville marina fire.

The judge denied the motion Monday to suppress the messages and evidence obtained through resulting search warrants in the trial of 57-year-old William Marver and 49-year-old Brenda Harris. The longtime friends are accused of burning Marver's houseboat for insurance money, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

Investigators say the February fire caused $4.5 million in damage to the Inland Marina dock and five boats, with four of them capsizing. Marver and Harris are charged with conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit arson for hire and arson with intent to defraud.

A search warrant allowed authorities to get all Facebook information and data from Dec. 28 to Feb. 28 for Marver, Harris and her son, including "any and all private messages both deleted and current." Defense attorneys John Brinson and Ivan Arnaez argued last week that authorities had no proof there might be evidence in the messages before gathering them was authorized.

The warrant cites posts made on Facebook about the fire by Marver, Harris and her son as support for obtaining the Facebook messages. Arnaez argued that those posts were general statements made on their Facebook timelines, and that private messages should be considered separately.

The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 11.

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