Image: Rodney Bradford's Facebook page
msnbc.com
Rodney Bradford, whose Facebook page is shown, was using the social networking site to communicate with his girlfriend at the time of a robbery he was accused — and later exonerated — of committing.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/12/2009 6:09:28 PM ET 2009-11-12T23:09:28

A 19-year-old New York City man arrested on robbery charges has been exonerated thanks to his Facebook page — and a request for pancakes.

Rodney Bradford was held for 12 days on suspicion of robbing two people on Oct. 17 in the Brooklyn public housing complex where he lives.

Bradford and witnesses insisted he was innocent. They said he was at his father's Harlem apartment when the crime occurred.

And, a playful message was posted on Bradford's Facebook page one minute before the robbery. In it, he asked his girlfriend where his pancakes were.

On Oct. 17 at 11:49 a.m., Bradford left the Facebook message, an inside joke to his girlfriend that read: "WHERE MY IHOP?"

The seemingly innocuous post became a major legal tool, as his defense attorneys were able to prove that the Facebook message was left from the IP address at Bradford's father's Harlem home, just as he had said. More than 13 miles away at the time of the crime in Brooklyn, lawyers said it was impossible that Bradford committed the mugging.

The vernacular — the slangy reference to pancakes —also helped.

"It is just a very strong alibi," Bradford's lawyer, Robert Reuland, told The New York Post. "It reflects the pervasiveness that Web sites and social networking has on our lives."

Bradford's stepmother, Ernestine Bradford, told the Post that "Facebook saved my son ... Normally, we yell at our kids, 'Oh, you're on the computer!' It's completely different. If it wasn't for Facebook, my son wouldn't be here."

Legal precedent?
Some legal experts said the case set a precedent.

“This is the first case that I’m aware of in which a Facebook update has been used as alibi evidence,” said John G. Browning, a lawyer in Dallas who studies social networking and the law. “We are going to see more of that because of how prevalent social networking has become," he told The New York Times.

Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, told the Times that the case is sealed and he could not discuss details. But he did acknowledge that Facebook was key to the dropped charges, The Times said..

“The prosecution contacted Facebook,” Bruno told The Times. "We were told of this alibi and we contacted people, researched and discovered that it was accurate.”

"They had me on Rikers Island for 12 days. It was really miserable," Bradford told the New York Post.

"If it wasn't for Facebook I'd still be on Rikers Island," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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