A man convicted of murder in New Haven, CT, is asking the state Supreme Court for a new trial on grounds that the judge should not have allowed evidence from Facebook at trial.
The defendant argues that photos from his Facebook profile that were presented to the jury were used to portray him as a “thug” and improperly swayed the jury. Police were also able to locate the defendant, Derrick Bouknight, through his Facebook page.
Bouknight allegedly shot and killed William Baines IV in October 2010 while he was sitting on his front porch in New Haven with his mother and other family members. Prosecutors say Bouknight was upset because Baines had fought with his friend over a $100 debt.
In April 2014, Judge Elpedio Vitale sentenced Bouknight to 70 years behind bars, calling the shooting “stunning in its depravity.”
At trial, prosecutors introduced into evidence printouts of Bouknight’s Facebook profile page and three photographs from his profile. An investigating officer, Stephen Manware, testified that he used Facebook to help track down Bouknight after the shooting. He said the defendant’s Facebook page matched the defendant’s correct birthday and city of residence.
Bouknight objected to the admission of the Facebook exhibits into evidence, arguing that there was no proof he created or maintained the Facebook profile or uploaded the photos. The judge denied the defendant’s objection, noting that proof the Facebook profile actually belonged to Bouknight was not required and was something the jurors could decide for themselves when reaching their verdict.
Bouknight appealed through his appellate lawyer, Richard Condon Jr., and the state Supreme Court decided to take up the case.
Condon argues that a jury would view Bouknight’s Facebook photos “as portraying the defendant as some type of a street thug and/or a militant black man and ‘ discount the prospect of a third party committing the fatal shooting of the victim.” As such, Condon claims the photos “substantially swayed” the jury’s verdict. The lawyer believes the prosecution should have to authenticate that the profile and photos were really Bouknight’s and not fabricated or altered in any way.
Meanwhile, Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Costello argues that the justices should uphold the Facebook evidence and conviction.
“[T]he defendant did not present any evidence to indicate that the photographs had been digitally altered and he gave no indication that he tried to have them forensically analyzed to determine whether any doctoring had taken place,” argues Costello in his brief to the justices. “Thus ‘ the trial court was well within its broad discretion when it found that the state had presented a prima facie case that the Facebook photographs were what the state claimed them to be and what they plainly appeared to be: photographs of the defendant.”
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