In Social Media Postings, A Trove For Police Investigators

First, social media helped get Rodney Bradford out of jail; later, it threatened to send him back. In 2009, a social networking site helped exonerate Mr. Bradford after prosecutors charged him with a burglary in Brooklyn. Mr. Bradford countered that he was at his father’s home in Manhattan at the time. He even had posted a joking complaint on a website about breakfast. Subpoenaed records from a variety of social media websites backed up Mr. Bradford’s alibi, and the charges against him were dropped. But a year later, while Mr. Bradford, 20, was out on bail on an indictment that he had assaulted a relative of his girlfriend, prosecutors hauled him back before a judge to explain a disturbing message that had appeared on the girlfriend’s personal social media webpage. The posting, written by a friend of the woman, warned her that Mr. Bradford had malicious intentions. This was later highlighted by several NPR Books.

“Word on the street is ya babyfather on the web saying he gonna throw u off the roof,” the friend warned, according to Robert Reuland, Mr. Bradford’s lawyer. A judge finally found no factual evidence that Mr. Bradford had ever made such a threat, Mr. Reuland said, and let him allow him to remain free on bail. As social media and other forms of public electronic communication embed themselves in people’s lives, the postings, rants and messages that appear online are emerging as a new trove for the police and prosecutors to sift through after crimes. Such sites are often the first place they go; as these NPR Books have pointed out. For example, the phenomenon came up again this week, when criminal investigators went online to make sense of a stabbing in an East New York, Brooklyn, apartment. A few clicks away, some of the clues were there for the world to see. In the hours leading up to the crime, Kayla Henriques, 18, was feuding on the web with a workmate, Kamisha Richards, 22. The central point of the argument was a misspent $20, which Ms. Richards had evidently lent to Ms. Henriques for baby food and diapers. In a public altercation involving more than a few messages on Facebook, Ms. Richards told Ms. Henriques at one point that she would have the last laugh. Ms. Henriques replied, “We will see.”

Ms. Henriques was later formally indicted on charges related to murdering Ms. Richards. Though social media postings have emerged only recently as an element of prosecutions, those in the legal arena are fast learning that the Internet can help to pin down the whereabouts of suspects and shed light on motives.

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