Police social media frenzy threatens to prejudice alleged child killer trial

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Police in Queensland, Australia received an unexpected response from the public on Saturday when they announced on their Facebook page that a 41-year-old man had been arrested and charged with the disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe. Morcombe's disappearance in late 2003 triggered one of the largest manhunts in Queensland history.

Within a few hours, hundreds had responded to the post. Many praised the Queensland Police and offered their condolences to the boy's family. However, several were highly prejudicial despite the suspect having not yet gone to trial. The police attempted to remove the inflammatory comments, but thousands had already read many of them, including potential jurors. Officials fear that this could make forming an impartial jury especially difficult.

Police have charged the suspect with murder, deprivation of liberty, child stealing, indecent treatment of a child under 16, and interfering with a corpse.