Family cites new evidence in man’s death

Retrieved cellphone data differ with police reports

Gregory Hart’s family believe he was beaten and killed and tossed into the river. Gregory Hart’s family believe he was beaten and killed and tossed into the river.
By Kay Lazar
Globe Staff / November 1, 2010

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New evidence retrieved from the cellphone of Gregory Hart, a Dedham man whose body was found last spring in a river after a night out at a Providence bar, appears to contradict police accounts of the facts and raises new questions, Hart’s family said yesterday.

The data — a log of the last 100 calls and the contents of the final 599 text messages — indicate the iPhone was not in water, as police stated in the second of their two reports. That report said that Hart’s wallet, license, and an iPhone were found on his body in the river, after he had been missing for two days. The initial report said Hart’s cellphone was found in the bar’s parking lot hours after he disappeared.

“This definitely wasn’t in the water, definitely, 100 percent, this was not in the water,’’ said Alfred Demirjian, a data recovery expert whose Cambridge company, TechFusion, was hired by Hart’s family.

“I have been doing this data recovery work for 25 years. We deal with a lot of spilled water into computers and cellphones. This phone was not in the water.’’

Demirjian also said evidence suggests the iPhone may have been intentionally altered to conceal its whereabouts during the time Hart was missing.

Rhode Island police and a medical examiner concluded that Hart, 23, tumbled into the Woonasquatucket River after a night of drinking at the Red Room bar last March.

Providence police did not return phone calls yesterday.

Hart’s family believe the recent University of Massachusetts graduate was beaten and killed and his body dumped two days later in the river about a mile from the bar. They said his body was not waterlogged the way it would have been had he been immersed for 48 hours. They also question how Hart, a certified scuba diver, could simply disappear into the water.

“I want to know what happened,’’ Hart’s mother, Marianne Hart, said yesterday. “We hope the truth will come out.’’

The family said the iPhone is key to unravelling the mystery, starting with the apparently conflicting police reports about the phone.

The initial incident report from March 14, several hours after Hart went missing, states that police found the “cellphone of Gregory Hart’’ and a house key from his car, which was in the bar’s parking lot. Yet the report also states that police called his cellphone at that time and that it rang several times before going to voicemail.

Two days later, the report states that police found “a cellphone’’ on Hart’s partially submerged body in the river, along with his driver’s license.

Hart’s grandfather, Bob Corkery, said that before police gave the family Hart’s cellphone, they asked for his pin number — a code that unlocks the iPhone for use. Alexander Gessen, a TechFusion data recovery expert, said the request suggests the phone was still working.

However, when police finally returned the phone to the Harts, it was broken into about five pieces, and family members said officers told them that even State Police experts were unable to retrieve any information from it because it had been in the water.

The style of iPhone Hart had is equipped with tiny indicators deep within the phone, that would signal whether the phone had been submerged, Gessen said. Apple, which makes the phone, installs the indicator so that the company can determine whether an iPhone has been in contact with water or other liquid, something that would void the warranty.

But evidence Gessen retrieved from Hart’s phone suggests that indicator was intentionally scratched off.

“They are very difficult to remove,’’ Gessen said.

Gessen was able to rebuild Hart’s phone, using a memory chip inside one of the shattered pieces, and connected it to a refurbished phone. He compared the text messages and phone logs he retrieved with records from Hart’s cellphone carrier, AT&T, to authenticate them.

Hart’s family declined yesterday to release the contents of the text messages or a log of the phone calls, saying they did not want to compromise any criminal case that may come from the new revelations. The family said it is considering a lawsuit against the Providence Police Department.

“I don’t believe a word of what they say,’’ said Marianne Hart.

Kay Lazar can be reached at

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