Along with wiretaps, undercover drug buys, cooperating witnesses and other evidence typically seen in major conspiracy cases, federal prosecutors are scouring the Facebook pages of defendants for proof in a potential death penalty trial.
In an example of how monitoring social media pages has become part of the law enforcement toolbox, the FBI recently filed a search warrant affidavit to examine the private details from Facebook pages of three men facing trial in U.S. District Court in Washington in a murder and drug case.
According to the affidavit, one of the defendants may have even been updating his Facebook status from inside the D.C. Jail with a contraband cellphone, posting messages such as “Life sucks right now.”
William Miller, a spokesman for the. U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the affidavit because the case is active, adding that “we typically do not discuss investigative techniques.”
Attorneys for the three defendants whose Facebook accounts were the subject of the affidavit - Timothy Moon, Randolph Danson and Mark Pray - said they had not seen the document and declined to discuss any details in the filing, which was obtained by The Washington Times through federal court records.
But, in general, it’s become “extremely common” for law enforcement to view social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace as evidence in conspiracy cases, said Mr. Pray’s attorney, James G. Connell III. “We see social media evidence in conspiracy cases all the time now,” he said.
Mr. Pray is the only one of the three defendants named in the affidavit who could face the death penalty. The Justice Department is weighing whether to seek capital punishment against him and two other defendants in the case, neither of whom is named in the affidavit.
Mr. Pray, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of running a violent drug gang based in the Barry Farm neighborhood of Southeast Washington. Among the crimes he is accused of is the 2009 killing of Crystal Washington. Prosecutors say she was shot to keep her from testifying in a D.C. drug case.
In the affidavit, the FBI says it began the investigation into what authorities dubbed the “Pray Organization” about four months after the Washington slaying. Listening in on Mr. Pray’s cellphone conversations after getting court approval, authorities said Mr. Pray got a call from a woman in March 2010 who told him she could see everything he was writing on Facebook.
In another conversation, the woman asked what Mr. Pray changed his name to on Facebook. After initially denying he had an account, he later said, “I changed my name to Kaiser Sorsay,” the affidavit stated.
“Kaiser Sorsay” was listed as “friends” on Facebook with accounts linked to two other defendants in the case, Mr. Moon and Mr. Danson, authorities say.
The FBI document said, based on the public information posted on the Facebook pages, “there is probable cause to believe that this Facebook account was used for communication in furtherance of the charged conspiracies.”
One post has mention of how somebody named “Spitz” was “watering down the pack.” The FBI said that referred to a method of adding agents to PCP get more but less-potent narcotics.
The FBI affidavit also said Mr. Danson’s Facebook page is associated with the user name “Randy Ladiescallmesmooth Danson” and included eight status updates after Mr. Danson’s March 11, 2010, arrest and incarceration by the D.C. Department of Corrections.
“Life sucks right how …” was one of the posts from October, according to the affidavit.