A jury in U.S. District Court on Wednesday convicted Malik First Born Allah Farrad, 41, of Knoxville of the charge of being a felon in possession of a handgun. The jury deliberated roughly three hours before returning the legally historic verdict.
The case marks the first time federal prosecutors have used a selfie uploaded to Facebook as the sole evidence.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas James Regalia told jurors in closing arguments in Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan's courtroom. “These (Facebook) pictures are worth one word and one word only, and that word is guilty.”
Farrad was known by his birth name, Marvin Buckles, when, in 2000, he was convicted of federal charges he was an armed drug dealer. He was freed from federal prison in January 2013.
Nine months later, Farrad posted on Facebook a photo of himself standing in front of a bathroom mirror inside his Knoxville apartment with a cellphone in one hand and a handgun in the other.
Varlan did not allow Regalia to use other photos posted on Farrah's Facebook page in which the same gun is pictured next to stacks of cash and marijuana. He ruled those photographs, which did not show Farrad at all, were too prejudicial. Jurors also did not know Farrad's prior felony involved guns and drugs.
Johnson City police Officer Thomas Garrison discovered the Facebook photos after the agency received a complaint Farrad had been going armed while visiting the upper East Tennessee city in August.
Defense attorney John Boucher reminded jurors in his closing arguments law enforcers searched Farrad and his home after discovering the selfie but found no gun. He and co-counsel Scott Saidak insisted the government could not prove the gun in the photo was, in fact, a real weapon and not a toy or replica.
As for why the felon would post a selfie on Facebook in which he brandished a weapon — real or not — Boucher offered this explanation: “We do certain things to let the world know certain things about us to protect ourselves. That's what we have here.”
Morristown Police Department Cpl. Kenny Hinkle, a gunsmith for three decades, showed jurors various tell-tale markers of the gun's authenticity. He, like jurors, has never seen or examined the weapon in the selfie.
An appeal is likely given the legal novelty of the case. The judge set an Oct. 29 sentencing hearing.