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Arkansas judge drops murder charge in Amazon Echo case; man found dead in hot tub in 2015

by Tracy Neal | November 29, 2017 at 12:13 p.m.

BENTONVILLE — A judge dismissed charges Wednesday against a man in a case that captured national headlines when prosecutors attempted to obtain information from an Amazon Echo device.

James Bates was accused of killing a friend whose body was discovered in a hot tub at Bate's Bentonville home. He was charge with first-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in the death of Victor Collins, 47, of Centerton on Nov. 22, 2015.

Bates also was accused of tampering with evidence by using a garden hose to wash away blood from his hot tub and patio area, according to court documents.

Amazon turned over the information after defense attorneys consented. Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said they did not find any evidence from the Echo device.

Bates, who has maintained his innocence throughout the case, was not in court, but he had numerous family members, friends and supporters there. Kathleen Zellner, one of Bates' attorneys, said she and Smith thought it would be better if Bates stayed away since members of Collins' family planned to attend.

Collin's wife — Kristine — was in court along with Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson and several of his detectives.

Zellner maintained her client's innocence and pointed to a medical reason as the cause of Collins' death, but she declined to go into specifics. A medical examiner notified Bentonville police in November 2015 that Collins' death was a homicide.

Smith noted Arkansas law requires the evidence be consistent with the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with any other reasonable explanations.

"After a review of new information provided by the defense and a re-examination of the evidence in this case, I came to the conclusion that the evidence could support more than one reasonable explanation," Smith said, though it wasn't clear what new evidence was considered. "Accordingly, I am legally obligated to cease prosecution of the case at this time."

Prosecutors have one year to re-file the case if they choose to do so.

Gene Page, a spokesman for the the Bentonville Police Department, said the department does not agree with Smith.

"We believe it is important and in the best interest of justice for the family that this case be heard by a jury," Page said.

Kristine Collins said she also was disappointed.

Victor Collins died from strangulation with drowning as a secondary cause, according to the court documents.

Bates told police three men — Collins, Owen McDonald and Sean Henry — went to his house on Nov. 21, 2015 to watch football. Henry left at 11 p.m., and the other three went to the outdoor hot tub where they drank beer and vodka, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Bates told police he went to bed at 1 a.m. and called 911 at 9:30 a.m. when he found Collins' body, according to the affidavit. Bates told police McDonald and Collins were in the hot tub when he went to bed.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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