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Court OKs admission of tweets, reverses criminal gang activity conviction

April 30, 2015

In a case of first impression regarding the authentication of social media posts, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the testimony from the defendant’s girlfriend that the Twitter account belonged to her boyfriend, as well as content from that account, sufficiently showed the defendant was the author of its tweets.

Donnell Wilson was convicted of two counts of murder, Class B felony armed robbery and Class D felony conspiracy to commit criminal gang activity after he shot and killed two rival gang members and stole headphones from another person. His murder and robbery sentences were enhanced by a criminal gang sentencing enhancement.

At his trial, the state sought to introduce Wilson’s Twitter posts, to which he objected, saying the state had not laid the proper foundation to identify the account as belonging to him. Wilson’s girlfriend, Pecolla Crawford, testified that the account belonged to him and she often communicated with him through Twitter. The account had pictures posted of Wilson holding guns that match those used in the crimes. He also often referenced his gang affiliations on his Twitter account.

Judge Cale Bradford, citing Palovich v. State, 6 N.E.3d 969 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), found that Crawford’s testimony coupled with the content on the account served to authenticate that it belonged to Wilson.

Wilson also objected to his being removed from a portion of the trial after he got into an argument with a member of the gallery, shouted profanity and got physical with the bailiffs. He was found in contempt and wasn’t brought back in until he wrote an apology. The COA found the trial court was well within its discretion to remove him from the courtroom.

But the judges did agree that his Class D felony conspiracy to commit criminal gang activity conviction should be reversed because he could not be convicted of that and also receive the criminal gang enhancements on his other charges. The vacating of that conviction reduces Wilson’s sentence by two years to 181 years.

The case is Donnell D. Wilson v. State of Indiana, 45A03-1409-CR-317.

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