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"Way to go, Texas," a national group said in a Facebook post today.
The California-based NORML Women’s Alliance followed up that thought by displaying a story from Empire News stating an Austin judge had handed down a death sentence to a man convicted of possession of marijuana for the third time.
The group describes itself as a "coalition of nonpartisan, educated, geographically and socially diverse women who believe that cannabis prohibition is a self-destructive and hypocritical policy that undermines the American family, sends a mixed and false message to our young people, and destroys the cherished principles of personal liberty and local self-government."
Most initial comments on the Facebook post showed readers recognized the story as a fake.
And when we clicked through to the story, it seemed a spoof starting from the reporter’s top-of-story byline: Bob the Empire News Potato (who says he’s "a writer, editor, and delicious with bacon and sour cream.")
Bob’s story says an Austin Superior Court judge sentenced Joseph Goldsmith, 34, to death row after Goldsmith was picked up on his third offense for marijuana possession.
Fact: There is no Austin Superior Court.
The story continued: "Judge Martin Churchill said during the trial that he had ‘already seen [Goldsmith] twice’ and that ‘the third time was the charm.’"
"If a man cannot get his act together, and he is arrested multiple times for the same crime, then I have no choice but to hand out the swiftest and harshest punishment I can," Churchill supposedly said, adding: "In this case, the public needs to know how the state of Texas deals with repeat offenders, especially when they are drug-related crimes."
The story quoted Goldsmith, who had only two previous misdemeanor convictions for possessing marijuana, as reacting: "This is like a nightmare. It was just a couple of joints. This isn’t right." The story said the death sentence came after he was arrested for having around a gram of marijuana.
"In several states throughout the U.S., this amount would get him a small fine. In others, he would be let off with a warning. The state of Texas has the toughest laws on marijuana possession in the country," the story said.
We don’t know about "toughest." But we found no sign the death penalty can be applied.
According to a NORML web page, there is no provision in Texas law for sentencing someone to death for possessing marijuana. Misdemeanor possession, of up to four ounces, could result in fines of up to $4,000 and incarceration for 180 days to a year, according to the page, while possession of greater amounts could lead to fines of up to $50,000 and sentences of up to 99 years in prison.
By telephone, Austin criminal defense attorney Keith Hampton and Jack Choate, a former Walker County prosecutor who works for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, each said a death sentence can’t be handed down for possessing marijuana.
"That’s not possible, even in Texas," Choate said.
We couldn’t take this Facebook post seriously enough to run it through the Truth-O-Meter. Still, we thought someone out there might wonder.
One more thing: Empire News describes itself as a "satirical and entertainment website."
See hyperlinked stories.