Vigilante justice goes high-tech in Ohio

Emotions often run high in criminal cases, and the higher they run the greater the likelihood that a defendant may be wrongly convicted.

History is replete with news-media fueled hysteria leading to false allegations and convictions. The 1915 lynching is Leo Frank is one early example. More recently, we saw that in 1989 wrongful convictions explored in the searing new Ken Burns documentary, The Central Park Five, and in the false rape charges filed against three members of the Duke University lacrosse team in 2006.

Another possible injustice is currently unfolding in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case of two members of the popular Steubenville High School football team. The alleged alcohol-fueled rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl at a party while other boys supposedly watched and did nothing, has set off an international firestorm.

What makes the media conflagration different in this case is that it has been fueled by bloggers and hackers who contend that other boys should be charged and that authorities are trying to cover up other wrongdoing by people associated with the football team.

Contrary to the narrative perpetrated in the cybersphere, law enforcement was not dismissive of the allegations. The alleged rape occurred on August 11. The girl’s mother reported it to police on August 14. Charges were filed on August 27, the same day that local authorities requested the assistance of the Ohio attorney general’s office for additional investigation.

But that wasn’t good enough for some, particularly a purported local member of the international hacker collective Anonymous who calls himself K.Y.

K.Y. has released a lot of information (and some misinformation) on his LocalLeaks web site. He also has threatened to release the social security numbers and other personal information of people he believes have information on the rape if they don’t come forward.

While some of the information K.Y. has thus-far released might be helpful, much of it seems to be fueled by personal animosity and to have been obtained illegally. (Like some cops and prosecutors, K.Y. apparently feels it’s OK to break the law to make others pay a price for breaking the law.)

This is a new frontier in media-fueled rushes to judgment. While some, including Erika Christakis have expressed concern about this new form of vigilante justice, many in the traditional media have followed the social media’s lead.

What makes this particularly frightening is the instant worldwide distribution via social media of unproven allegations by a masked man who doesn’t mind destroying the reputations of teenagers who may have had nothing to do with the rape in question.

To anyone who cares about justice and the rights of the accused to a fair trial, CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman’s interview with K.Y. should be a cause concern. ”We aren’t the judge nor the jury, but it’s fair to say we are the executioner,” K.Y. said of Anonymous. The hacker added that, because some of the people have ”incriminated themselves” in online tweets and postings, there is no real need to wait for the courts to decide on their guilt or innocence. ”If you think they are guilty, that’s because your conscience is telling you they are guilty,” K.Y. said. Case closed.

Trials often lead to unjust results, particularly in emotionally charged cases. But trials sure beat having the accused subjected to a high-tech lynching by a self-anointed ”executioner” hiding behind a Guy Fawkes mask.

7 responses to “Vigilante justice goes high-tech in Ohio

  1. If we think the justice system is flawed, we need to work to fix it. But “trial by media” is just a step towards anarchy.

  2. Please, please, please do some research before writing idiotic articles. I used to think highly of the Innocence Project but now I’m thinking you’re clueless. Where did you get the idea that AnonymousKY has done anything illegal? So far he has done two things – 1. Pulled photos off the web that where placed there by the perps. 2. Released records that were already public. No different than any newspaper who does the same thing all the time.

    You know, I’ve been trying like heck to figure out why the rapists in this case are suddenly getting a lot of love from “mainstream” think tanks and publications in the last few days and I think I finally figured it out. Groups like Anonymous that can do things you can’t because they understand social media and technology in a way that you can not. That means they are a threat to all of you. Not only in terms of your control of the issue but also the money stream that comes from it.

    Bottom line. There is only one “side” to this story. A group of boys raped a passed out girl for close to six hours, Tweeted, Instgramed and Facebook about that crime during and after, admitted, or rather bragged about it publicly and then still almost got away with it.

    We as a society can not accept that. And if for some reason people like you think our flawed “justice” system should protect these people then you need to change. Not us.

  3. Docile Jim Brady – Columbus OH 43209

    I agree with Marty and Phil .
    More than a few defendants have been prejudiced by irresponsible publishing , whether by amateurs or professionals .

    Some are demanding that the Jefferson Co. DA be disbarred , yet have offered not even gossip type evidence that her conduct warrants such a sanction .
    I am uncertain how much time elapsed between her request to the AG and her recusal from prosecution .

    The best news is that our kids are adults .

  4. In response to Bill C., who asked where I got the idea Anonymous did anything illegal: I got some of this idea from Anonymous’ very own web site, which says: ”Mr. Parks is an avid fan of the Big Red High School football team, and is the webmaster and owner of a private fan site for the team. Knight Sec zeroed in on James Parks when intelligence from students in the high school revealed that he had an exceptionally close relationship with many of the players on the football team, including those members of “The Rape Crew”. Anonymous quickly took control of his web servers, and proceeded to deface the front page of his website. Knight Sec then when a step further, and gained control over Mr. Parks private E-Mail account, and downloaded much of it’s contents.” Taking control of web servers, defacing websites and accessing a person’s private e-mail account are potentially illegal acts. That is why people involved in Anonymous like to remain anonymous.

  5. Marty. Here is another example of internet vigilante justice.
    A group that calls itself the “truthers” claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was staged by the government and the media to use as a wedge in the gun control debate.
    The gentleman living near the school who took in four kids he found hiding in his driveway, and was later interviewed about it, is being harassed by the “truthers” for being an “actor” in the “staged” event. They have hacked into his computer, and published his personal information, among other things.
    Just …… SICK.
    Somehow, the justice system is going to have to figure out how to appropriately deal with the “electronic vigilantes”.

  6. Pingback: Judge Bans Personal Electronics From Courtroom to Protect Witnesses | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  7. Pingback: Judge Bans Personal Electronics From Courtroom to Prevent Witnesses Intimidation | Wrongful Convictions Blog

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