EAGAN, Minn. (WCCO) — This week, an Eagan man learned he’ll spend 25 years in prison for producing child pornography.

The conviction wouldn’t have been possible without the careful computer work of a forensic team. WCCO got an inside look at what it takes to trace a digital footprint.

A drug arrest in Duluth first landed Ellis Tooles in trouble with the law.  But, it’s what his family found on his cell phone that will keep him locked up for much longer.

They turned that phone into the Eagan Police Department. Their forensic unit recovered video of a sex act with a 2-year-old, and other illicit images.

“You can’t un-see certain things,” Detective Darrin Schultz said.

Detective Schultz showed us the steps they take to build their case.

“What we can actually see is the metadata inside that file,” he said.

A digital fingerprint of sorts. GPS coordinates, time of day and who Tooles was communicating with. Metadata also proved critical last year, when Senicha Lessman and her unborn son were murdered in Eagan.

“Initially, he denied even being in Eagan,” Detective Schultz said.

Instantly, Vern Mouelle’s phone proved otherwise.  Within hours of his arrest, Detective Schultz also knew Mouelle had googled how to slit someone’s throat and clean up blood.

In January, Mouelle was convicted of killing them both. The team trains regularly on ever-changing technology.

A glimpse at modern-day policing: Where the goal of getting the bad guy remains the same.

“There is a satisfaction at the end of the day when you’re able to put somebody like this behind bars for 25 years,” Detective Schultz said.

The forensic unit in Eagan is made up of 10 investigators. It’s the only department in Dakota County to have its own team dedicated to forensic investigations.

They’ve found in the last few years they’ll work on every major case, since cell phones are so prevalent and all contain potential evidence at crime scenes.

Liz Collin

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