Sixth District: Proper to Use Facebook Photo to Convict Double Murder Suspect
A survivor of a robbery identified the Toledo man who shot him and killed another by the shooter’s Facebook profile page. An Ohio appeals court affirmed the shooter’s life sentence, finding that despite claims social media posts can be faked, posts can be used as evidence.
The Sixth District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Traquawn Gibson for the 2012 murders of his ex-girlfriend and of a man he and two others tried to rob. The appellate court indicated it was the first time it had to address whether Facebook posts and other social media could pass Ohio’s rule for admitting evidence even though police admit they can’t be completely certain the suspect posted the information or if it was his page.
Writing for the court, Judge James D. Jensen found courts across the nation are diverging on the admission of social media as evidence with some choosing to use a very high bar to allow it and others set a lower standard. Based on the few Ohio cases addressing social media posts, texts, and telephone calls the suspects deny making, Judge Jensen indicated Ohio is leaning toward the lower bar and leaving it up to juries to decide if it is legitimate based on all the facts presented.
In October 2012 Limmie Reynolds and Deonta Allen were sitting in a car smoking marijuana when Gibson, Stephaun Gaston, and Kevin Martin approached them. Reynolds said Gibson put a gun in his face and he and Allen jumped out of the car and began running. They were both shot in the torso and Allen died from gunshot wounds. Reynolds told police he knew Gaston and Martin and that they lived at the Moody Manor housing complex.
Police showed Reynolds a photo array that included the three suspects and he was able to identify Gaston and Martin but not Gibson. Within two weeks after the shooting, Reynolds brother told police some of those involved had Facebook pages. Toledo Detective Bart Beavers searched online and found pages associated with Martin and Gaston.
A month after the robbery, and as police searched for the suspects, Gibson contacted ex-girlfriend Crejonnia Bell. The two argued on a street and Gibson shot her and then himself in the leg. The two entered the house claiming someone was shooting at them. Police arrived to find Bell severely wounded and she later died from gunshot wounds to the head and torso.
While being treated for the wound to his leg, Gibson admitted he was a member of the Moody Manor Bloods, and police noted gunshot residue on his shirt and took him into custody. He was later charged with aggravated murder with a firearm specification for shooting Bell, and murder with a firearm specification for shooting Allen, and with other charges for shooting and attempting to rob Allen and Reynolds. He was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for Bell’s murder and life with the possibility of parole in 15 years for killing Allen.
Reynold’s identification of Gibson came after doing his own search on Facebook. He told police he could identify Gibson because “the lips that were seen on Facebook were the lips of the individual that had the gun,” according to the court. Police then placed a photo array in front of Reynolds covering up the top half of suspects’ faces and Reynolds identified Gibson.
Gibson’s attorneys argued that in violation of Ohio’s Rules of Evidence, specifically 901(B)(1), the detectives did not have sufficient personal knowledge about the ownership and control of the Facebook pages to admit it as evidence and prove that Gibson, Martin, and Gaston were members of the Moody Manor Bloods and the robbers.
Detective William Noon, a certified gang specialist, testified that there are 18 documented street gangs in Toledo including the Moody Manor Bloods, which had three subdivisions: “Kent Head,” “Young Money,” and “Manor Boyz.” Noon testified he knew Gibson was a member of the “Young Money” subgroup.
Detective Beavers testified that since Reynolds knew Martin and Gaston’s name, he started searching Facebook profiles with the term Young Money. Knowing Gaston’ street name was “Oozie,” he was able to find the Facebook profile with the username “Oozie Montana YungSavage Mayor.” Martin, known on the streets as “Kfifty” was found as “Kfifty Youngmoney Boss.” Beavers was able to find a“Traquawn Gibson YoungMoney” Facebook profile and printouts of all were introduced in court.
Judge Jenson wrote that authenticating electrically stored information (ESI), such as social media has presented unique issues for courts. The Sixth District turned to a federal district court in Maryland for its Lorraine v. Markel American Insurance Co. 2007 ruling that provided great details on the “evidentiary hurdles” facing ESI.
Judge Jensen noted the judge in the case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm, has written two law journal articles on the issue. Grimm found some courts “set the unnecessarily high bar for the admissibility of social media evidence by not admitting the exhibit unless the court definitely determines that the evidence is authentic.”
Other courts are taking a different approach, Judge Jenson indicated, allowing the court and juries to weigh the disputed evidence in light of all the facts in the case. “That is, clearly authentic evidence is admitted, clearly inauthentic evidence is excluded, and everything in between is conditionally relevant and admitted for the jury to make the final determination of its authenticity,” Jensen wrote citing Grimm’s work.
Judge Jensen found the court should follow its 1982 ruling in Hartford Insurance Co. v. Parker that while not being about social media, it suggests a low bar to offer evidence as being authentic. The standard requires the party opposing it to show it is fake, and then allows the jury or the judge hearing the case to decide its value.
“In other words, a trial court ‘need not find that evidence is necessarily what the proponent claims, but only that there was sufficient evidence that the jury might ultimately do so,” he concluded.
Judges Mark L. Pietrykowski and Thomas J. Osowik concurred in the decision.
State v. Gibson, 2015-Ohio-1679
Criminal Appeal From: Lucas County Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: May 1, 2015
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.