Court rules MySpace-based evidence okay in murder trial

The Associated Press

HOUSTON — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday an accused killer’s MySpace pages were properly used as evidence by prosecutors to help convince a jury to convict the Dallas-area street gang member of murder.

Ronnie Tienda Jr. appealed his conviction and 35-year prison term for the slaying of 23-year-old David Valadez in a 2007 shootout on a Dallas freeway.

In the appeal, Tienda’s attorney argued the judge at his 2008 trial in Dallas County was wrong to allow MySpace entries into evidence because it was questionable whether Tienda was responsible for entries that referred to the killing on his pages on the social networking site.

The appeals court said the content of Tienda’s postings, which included photos, comments and music, was sufficient to show he created and maintained it and the trial judge wasn’t wrong to allow it as circumstantial evidence for prosecutors to show Tienda was involved in the slaying.

Tienda’s attorney, Leslie McFarlane, said Wednesday she wasn’t sure where the case could go now. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in the state.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s troubling,” she said.

Valadez, from Grand Prairie, died at a Dallas hospital of wounds suffered when gunfire erupted from at least two of three vehicles during a confrontation on Interstate 30 that began earlier at a club. Valadez was driver of one of the cars.

Court records indicate Tienda was present during the gunfire but testimony at his trial was inconsistent as to who fired first. Bullets from Valadez’s body never could be matched to a weapon and no firearms ever were recovered.

Valadez’s sister told prosecutors as they were preparing for trial about three MySpace pages featuring Tienda boasting about the killing. They also included entries of him complaining about wearing an electronic monitor while awaiting trial.

“I kill to stay rich!!” according to one of the entries. Another features a photo of a tattoo of the Roman numeral for 18 on the back of Tienda’s head, which a detective testified referred to the North Side 18th Street gang in Grand Prairie.

Tienda’s trial lawyer unsuccessfully argued the evidence wasn’t credible and couldn’t be authenticated.

Responding to the appeal, prosecutors said the social network pages contained “sufficiently distinctive information” to justify their admission into evidence.

The appeals court agreed, saying it also was aware electronic writings can sometimes be open to question.

“Computers can be hacked, protected passwords can be compromised, and cell phones can be purloined,” the judges wrote. But the court said in this case an email address and subscriber name used Tienda’s nickname, “Smiley,” his home zip code, tattoos, photos, even a link to a song played at Valadez’s funeral, to tie him to the MySpace pages.

“This is ample circumstantial evidence — taken as a whole with all of the individual, particular details considered in combination — to support a finding that the MySpace pages belonged to [Tienda] and that he created and maintained them,” the court said.

Tienda, 26, already had a conviction on three counts of robbery when he was arrested for Valadez’s murder. He doesn’t become eligible for parole until August 2026.