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BENTONVILLE -- The widow in a hot tub death that drew national attention can continue trying to get money from homeowner James Bates, Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren ruled Thursday.

"I'm going to order mediation," Karren said. "We are talking money."

Amazon Alexa warrant

James Bates’ criminal case gained national attention when prosecutors and police got a warrant ordering Amazon to turn over information from the Echo device at Bates’ home from the night of Victor Collins’ death that may be on the company’s servers. Attorneys for Amazon filed a motion seeking to quash the warrant.

The Echo is a speaker controlled by users’ voices. It uses a processor to identify a “wake word,” and in response to the word connects to Amazon’s cloud-based Alexa voice service to receive and respond to voice commands. Amazon agreed to turn over the information after Bates’ attorney consented.

Source: Staff report

Bates was charged but never tried for murder in Victor Collins' death. Prosecutors dismissed Bates' case.

The murder case gained national attention when prosecutors and police asked for Amazon to turn over any information from the Echo device in Bates' home the night of Collins' death.

Kristine Homan, Collins' widow, filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Bates. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 2 and Bates was served Nov. 6. Bates failed to meet the 30-day deadline to answer the lawsuit.

Karren granted a default judgment in December at the request of Homan's attorneys. The only issue in the case now is monetary damages.

Bates' attorney, Jeff Elliott, filed a motion to set aside the default judgment. Karren denied the motion. A jury will decide the issue concerning damages. That trial is set to begin Nov. 6.

Elliott described the default judgment as "a miscarriage of justice" since Bates' then-attorney told Bates she would represent him, Elliott argued at a hearing Thursday. The attorney, Kathleen Zellner, didn't file the answer even though Bates questioned her about the case, Elliott said.

Zellner later told Bates she couldn't represent him, but planned to obtain a local attorney to file for an extension, Elliott said. Zellner represented Bates in his criminal case.

A message left for Zellner on Thursday afternoon wasn't returned by 5:30 p.m.

She has a Chicago office and is nationally known for her work in wrongful convictions. She is the attorney for Steven Avery of the Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer.

Elliott argued Arkansas law doesn't allow for a social host to be held responsible if they provide alcohol to an adult and he dies in an alcohol-related death.

Elliott argued Zellner should have told Bates to contact his homeowner's insurance for his legal representation.

Karren said it's undisputed Bates was properly served and failed to file a timely answer. The judge also ruled Bates waived the social host defense by his failure to file the answer.

Bates was charged with first-degree murder and tampering. He pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors dropped the charges in November 2017. Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith noted new information from Bates' attorney, adding Arkansas law requires evidence be consistent with the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with any other reasonable explanation.

Police and medics were called to Bates' home and found Collins, who appeared to have a black eye, dead in the hot tub, according to the affidavit.

NW News on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Civil lawsuit continues in hot tub death

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