BOSTON — A Boston University medical student has been charged in the so-called Craigslist killing. Philip Markoff, 23, is accused of murdering 26-year-old Julissa Brisman at the Marriot Copley Hotel on April 14.
Markoff pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, robbery and kidnapping. He was ordered held without bail in an arraignment at Boston Municipal Court on Tuesday.
Markoff stood silently in court, his hands and feet in metal cuffs. The second-year medical student said nothing as Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Hickman described how Brisman was shot three times as she tried to fight back against her attacker.
Two of those gun shots were through and through,” Hickman said. “The third one was lodged in her left hip. And one of the injuries — the bullet that went through Miss Brisman’s heart — according to the medical examiner, would have caused her death immediately.”
The murder came just four days after the robbery of another woman at the Westin Copley Place Hotel. Like Brisman, 29-year-old Trisha Leffler had also advertised masseuse services on Craigslist, and agreed to meet a man at an upscale hotel. She was held at gunpoint, bound with plastic ties and robbed.
Following the arraignment, Markoff’s attorney, John Salsberg, said prosecutors had yet to provide him with a shred of evidence linking his client to the crimes.
“I have not any document, or report or piece of evidence, so all I have at the moment are words. No proof of anything.”
But law enforcement officials claim Markoff littered the crime scenes with proof — both physical and virtual.
“What led police to Philip Markoff initially, was by tracing back his contact to Julissa Brisman via e-mail,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley. “By doing that, they identified his Internet providers’ address at that Quincy location where he lives.”
Conley alleges that Markoff created the e-mail address day before the murder.
Police were led to Markoff by that virtual fingerprint, which, in a world of geotagging and 3G cell phones, criminals often forget they leave behind. However, computer forensics experts warn that while an IP address may make for compelling evidence, it is by no means concrete.
“You also have to be able to prove who was using the computer. So that’s another thing officers have to worry about,” says Raynham Police Chief Louis Pacheco, who is also founder of the Massachusetts Regional Electronic and Computer Crimes Task Force.
Pacheco adds that while identifying a suspect’s IP address is important, it only gets you to the front door. Behind the door, there could be many computer users. Or, there could be an unsecured wireless router, open and available for hijack by anyone else in the building.
“So, not only do you have to know who’s on the computer, you have to know who’s on that network. It’s not unusual now to have information come back for a specific IP address and have it be somebody else’s.”
Law enforcement sources say it’s the other evidence — the old fashioned kind collected at Markoff’s Quincy apartment — that may have the most to reveal about the attacks. Conley said a firearm, restraints and duct tape were found in Markoff’s home.
The gun hasn’t yet been forensically examined, but Conley said the plastic restraints are similar to those used to bind the victims’ hands. Sources say the plastic flexicuffs are made by a dozen or so manufacturers, and are usually sold in unique batches that could be identified through purchase and sale records.
However, none of this gets to the question of motive. Conley would only venture “robbery” as the reason behind Markoff’s alleged actions.
Several media reports cite unidentified law enforcement sources that claim Markoff was a problem gambler with large debts. Conley would not respond to those allegations.
On the day he was arrested, Markoff was on Interstate 95 near Walpole. He was on his way to Foxwoods Resort Casino with his fiancee.