The more investigators dig into the electronic devices used by alleged cyberstalker Ryan B. Lee, the less incriminating evidence they find, according to court records and testimony.
Attorneys for Lee, 19, appeared in court Thursday and ripped the prosecution’s case after learning that Spokane police had FBI forensic analysts look at all 13 electronic devices seized from Lee and his family. That analysis found zero evidence that any of those devices had sent threats to several girls or threats to shoot up Lewis and Clark High School in May 2018.
Defense attorneys Carl Oreskovich and Derek Reid are arguing that the lack of evidence strengthens their belief that someone tried to set Lee up by creating bogus IP addresses that appeared to have come from Lee’s home.
“Part of our theory of the defense was that Mr. Lee’s account had been hacked,” Oreskovich said in court Thursday. “And, that it wasn’t Mr. Lee himself who sent the messages.”
Lee was arrested in 2018 and charged with felony harassment with threats to kill, and communication with a minor for immoral purposes after a threat was posted to Instagram about shooting up LC. In all, investigators found more than 110 Instagram messages posted by the account steven_smith__4.
Investigators found 42 IP addresses, which are unique numbers generated whenever an electronic device connects to the Internet, and 10 of those were linked to Lee’s home address.
Under questioning by police detectives on May 30, Lee initially denied any ties to the Instagram account and denied sending messages to anyone referencing a school shooting. During a second interview, detectives wrote that he admitted to creating the account and sending the messages and images to the 15-year-old girl, according to records.
Oreskovich said he and Reid plan to challenge the alleged confession in court.
In January, prosecutors filed more charges against Lee after more messages were sent via a different Instagram account. They added two new counts of felony harassment with threats to kill and one count each of cyberstalking and a violation of a court order.
But Oreskovich claims Lee could not have made the later posts because all of his electronic devices had been taken from him and he had been barred from his Instagram account, “which corroborates our theory that someone else was posting as Ryan Lee to send those messages.”
As a result of their belief, Oreskovich and Reid asked Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno to approve new subpoenas that would allow the defense attorneys to review the cell phones of the alleged victims to find out exactly when those messages were sent and search for any information about who sent them.
They have hired Jeff Shaffer, a retired U.S. Secret Service agent and forensic computer expert, to review the cellphones based on specific name searches.
“Mr. Lee and I are not asking to thumb through their cellphones. I wouldn’t want people to go through my cellphone,” Oreskovich said. “We are not asking for that. We have hired a former Secret Service employee who has searched through thousands of electronic devices.”
Timothy Lawlor, a civil attorney with the law firm Witherspoon Kelley, argued the motions on behalf of the state on Thursday. Lawlor opposed the motions, saying defense attorneys keep changing what they want to review.
Lawlor noted investigators found indications that Lee researched how to cover his tracks and whether the FBI could track Instagram posts. Lee also researched school shootings, Lawlor said.
“What they didn’t get Mr. Shaffer to say was that the information from these texts can’t be traced. It is not on the phones,” Lawlor said. “I thought it would be. There is no technology here that will show where that threat originated from. I ask you not to revictimize the victims. You have been badly misled.”
Lawlor also accused Oreskovich of not disclosing that Shaffer is an employee of Lee’s adoptive father, Lewis Lee, who is the co-founder of Lee and Hayes. The company 601 West, which is a division of Lee & Hayes, was purchased in May 2018 by Aon, a professional services firm that has more than 50,000 colleagues in 120 countries.
Aon also owns the risk management firm, Stroz Friedberg Inc., of New York City, which employs Shaffer, the forensic expert.
“The parent of the stalker gets access to their phones, which is disgusting,” Lawlor said.
Oreskovich countered that Lewis Lee’s company has nothing to do with Stroz Friedberg even though both are owned by Aon.
Moreno cautioned the attorneys about going too far with their statements regarding Lee’s father.
“I very infrequently have a case where parents are being disparaged,” Moreno said. “I would think everyone who comes into my court is worthy of respect. I ask you to bear this in mind.”
She said the case boils down to who sent and received the electronic threats.
“Teenagers’ cellphones have basically become their social life. I get all that and I’m very sensitive to that,” Moreno said. But she said she must balance “privacy versus the material Mr. Lee needs for his defense.”