Police collected 10,000 pages of data investigating Bills, Hill deaths
ALPENA — During the investigation into the disappearance and deaths of Abby Hill and Brynn Bills, police collected nearly three dozen electronic items from which Michigan State Police forensic analysts attempted to extract data.
The special crime units received cell phones, tablets, and a combination of SIM cards and memory cards from Hill, from Brad Srebnik, the man accused of killing Hill and Bills, and from some of their friends and associates as they attempted to connect the dots about the case.
Information about the material pulled from the devices was shared during day five of Srebnik’s murder trial in 26th Circuit Court in Alpena.
Srebnik is charged in the deaths of Mio teen Bills and Alpena woman Hill in 2021. Charges against him include two counts of premeditated murder, weapons charges, and disinterment and mutilation of a body.
He faces life in prison but denies the allegations.
In some instances, large amounts of data was pulled from the devices thanks to special tools and software, while others provided police little new information.
Some of the messages sent between the parties were encrypted because of the use of an app called Signal, which scrambles messages sent and received.
In total, police collected about 10,000 pages of data extracted from the devices, defense attorney Patrick Cherry said before the jury entered the courtroom.
Chelsea Coburn, a State Police digital forensic analyst, said it’s getting harder to extract information from devices, especially if they have a passcode or use applications that encrypt messages. She said tools police use have changed to keep up with the times, but sometimes things slip through the cracks because they are unretrievable.
“It’s difficult if there is a passcode, but, sometimes, we can still pull data,” Coburn testified. “It’s easier if the phone is powered on, but, if there is a passcode and the phone arrives to us turned off or dead, it is hard.”
During her testimony, Coburn verified evidence of conversations between Srebnik and his friend, Josh Wirgau, who was also charged with felonies in the deaths of the two women.
Late last year, Wirgau reached a plea deal with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to reduce the charges against him. He is charged in the destruction of Bills’ body and other felonies but prosecutors agreed to drop a murder charge against Wirgau for the death of Hill. Wirgau faces no less than 15 years in prison and no more than 30 years.
Much of the conversation discussed in court Friday was just Srebnik, Wirgau, Hill, and their friend, Bruce Kinsey, checking in with one another. Some messages, however, will be used by the prosecution to establish proof of previous testimony from Wirgau.
Friday’s proceeding was adjourned about halfway through the day because someone associated with the case had a personal emergency. The adjournment happened before the defense could cross-examine Coburn.
The trial is slated to resume on Monday at 9:30 a.m.