Monday, April 7, 2008
It's My Space. That's Why They Call It MySpace, Take 2: Judge Finds MySpace Photos Inadmissible In Murder Trial
The trial for two teenagers, Jean Pierre Orlewicz and Alexander Letkemann, for the gruesome murder of twenty-six year old Daniel Sorensen will begin this week, but without evidence that defense counsel wanted to introduce about the victim. I've written about this case before, and the brief facts are that Orlewicz and Letkemann are charged with first-degree premeditated murder, disinterment and mutilation of a corpse based upon the allegation that they lured Sorensen into a death trap where he was stabbed, beheaded and burned. Specifically, authorities say that Orlewicz arranged for Sorensen to meet him in his grandfather's garage in Canton Township, where the floor had been covered with a tarp, the windows draped, and knives, a saw and cleaning materials were waiting. Orlewicz and Letkemann allegedly then murdered Sorensen, with the only known motive being that the murder was a "thrill killing."
Orlewicz's defense lawyers sought to prove that Sorensen had a violent past and that Orlewicz may have killed him in self-defense. They sought to prove this past through four personal protection orders taken out against Sorensen since 2000 by people in Illinois and Michigan who claimed to fear him and through pictures of weapons, illegal drugs and images from the movie "Scarface" that Sorensen posted on his MySpace page. The judge, however, found that the statements used to obtain the protective orders were unchallenged opinions, not facts, and that the orders were thus inadmissible. The judge also relied upon the fact that the defendants were unaware of the orders before Sorensen's death. With regard to the MySpace photos, the judge found that "would tend to move the jury to decide the matter on an improper basis such as inflamed passions and emotions."
The protective order ruling clearly makes sense to me, and it seems like the judge's ruling on the MySpace photos was correct as well as any probative value that these photos had (if they had any) was likely substantially outweighed by their unfairly prejudicial effect and thus inadmissible under Michigan Rule of Evidence 403. Moreover, if the judge had ruled otherwise, college students across the country could have their Tony Montana or A Clockwork Orange posters admissible if they became involved in court cases to prove...what, exactly? I'm not sure that's the result we want. Meanwhile, this is the second recent case to find evidence from a person's MySpace page to be inamdissible. It will be interesting to see if subsequent cases find similarly.