PHILADELPHIA — Joshua Scott Albert’s Facebook posts calling for the killing of police and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams were clearly satire, his lawyer said.
Granted, they were stupid satire, unfunny, and in bad taste, said defense attorney Lloyd E. Long III, but constitutionally protected free speech nonetheless.
Unfortunately for Albert, satire, like beauty, seems to be in the eye of the beholder.
And to Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, Albert’s Internet witticisms were worth a trial for criminal solicitation to commit murder, terroristic threats, and harassment.
Albert, 26, sat quietly — hands cuffed in front of him — through the hourlong preliminary hearing Tuesday.
Gone were his copper curls and fashionably scruffy beard. Albert was clean-shaven, and his hair was in a military buzz-cut.
The black crew sweater he wore in a 2011 newspaper portrait was replaced by a red plaid shirt and jeans.
Several friends in the gallery gasped when Deni ordered Albert held on $300,000 bail.
Albert, an unemployed restaurant worker turned-blogger, has been in prison since he surrendered to police Sept. 20. He is being in “protective custody” at an undisclosed prison.
Most of the hearing was spent listening to Williams and John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, describe the effect of Albert’s Facebook posts calling for their killings.
McNesby testified that at first he did not take seriously the “Kill John McNesby” Facebook page.
“He hides behind a keyboard,” McNesby said.
But after his wife and two young daughters became scared, McNesby said, he realized “I don’t know who is out there and reading these pages.”
Williams testified that Albert “went beyond bad taste and ignorant repulsive behavior to criminal behavior.”
The crucial difference, Williams said, was Albert’s Facebook suggestion that police killers could surrender to him and he would return to them 97 percent of the reward money he received.
Albert’s posts began last year with staphmeal.com, a blog of Philadelphia restaurant-industry gossip and barbed criticism.
But after the Aug. 18 murder of Police Officer Moses Walker Jr., Albert began blogging about police and social issues, beginning with a page supporting Walker’s accused killers.
Williams said he approved the charges against Albert but then referred the case for prosecution to the state attorney general’s office because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“I didn’t want this perceived as some sort of vendetta,” Williams testified.
Senior Deputy Attorney General John J. Flannery was the prosecutor instead of an assistant district attorney.
In questioning McNesby and Williams, Long suggested that neither took the threats seriously and that Albert should not have been charged with the felony solicitation charge.
The other charges are misdemeanors.
“This was clearly satire, but not funny satire, by somebody who should have kept his mouth closed — primarily my client,” Long argued to Deni.
“There is no proof of a specific intent that any murders be committed,” he added.
Williams, like McNesby, testified that he feared Albert’s readers more than Albert himself: “That’s what made him so dangerous to me.
He had such a large following … people who might want to do something to get his favor.”
Flannery argued that the question of Albert’s intent should be left to a jury to decide.
“It’s all a big joke and satire until when the defendant gets his hand caught in the cookie jar and gets locked up,” Flannery said.