Online 'mob' could threaten justice for Cole Miller
A SOCIAL media onslaught against the men accused of killing Cole Miller could jeopardise the legal process and deny both them and the teenager's family justice, the head of the Queensland Law Society has warned.
Criminal lawyer Bill Potts has warned there is a risk the case against Armstrong Renata and Daniel Maxwell could be tainted by a vicious Facebook campaign against them.
He called for public calm, saying justice should be done in the courts and not at the hands of a "baying mob".
Renata and Maxwell are accused of a random attack in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley which left the 18-year-old former Sunshine Coast man on life support.
Cole never regained consciousness and passed away on Monday.
Social media went into meltdown once the names of the accused were made public, with their personal Facebook pages hijacked and flooded with threats.
Another page - Life in Prison for Armstrong Renata and Daniel Maxwell - was also established while online activist group Anonymous became involved, posting details of the young men's' addresses, phone numbers and personal details.
Comments posted on all sites ranged from calls for the pair to be executed to suggestions about what other inmates should do to them in jail.
"Let's bring back the death penalty and ensure that cowards like Armstrong Renata and Daniel Maxwell both face it," was typical.
"These two low life, cowardly, oxygen thieves are not worthy of participating in our system."
"Just slit his throat and be done with it," said one comment posted directly on Renata's page.
"Twenty (five realistically) years behind bars won't fix him and it's certainly a burden on hard-working honest people to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for him to be kept alive in prison."
Anonymous also warned "if you do not want your face, name and personal details all over social media and the internet disgracing your name and your family surname, think twice before you cowardly punch anyone."
But Mr Potts said he feared those sorts of comments and presumption the men were guilty would pose a danger when their cases came to court.
"Traditionally, judges tell jurors they must not consider any evidence or material that is not presented in court," the Gold Coast lawyer he said.
"That's the theory but the reality is that once it's out in the ether, it's there forever.
"There is a very real danger that a juror who may be called on at some future stage to judge if people are guilty or not will be influenced by social media.
"Any curious juror can simply look up a name on the internet and be flooded with all sorts of material which is not based on fact, is not based on evidence but reflects the outrage and anger of people on social media - the conclusions of people who are not present in the court room and do not have access to all the evidence.
"Uninformed and often incendiary opinion expressed on social media may have the real danger of harming the rights these people have to a fair trial."
Describing Cole Miller's death as a "tragedy", Mr Potts said the online attacks meant people were "effectively acting as judge, jury and executioner", with no respect for the fact people were innocent until proven guilty.
"But we don't do justice in our society on the internet, in the ether or in a crowd," he said.
"We do justice calmly and dispassionately in the courts of law.
"The legal process has to take its own course and we have to understand that while the social media is being used by people to vent their frustrations, it should not interfere with the course of justice.
"In a case like this it may, in fact, endanger the way in which the justice system can deal with a legal issues.
"The victims in these cases are not just the poor dead boy but his family, who expects justice to be done according to law - not according to the baying mob.
"People, however well-meaning, should bear that in mind when they sit at their keyboards late at night venting their anger.
"All that can be done is to ask that online expressions of grief and sympathy and empathy for the family are always entirely appropriate."