In February 2021, a February 1 2020 Facebook post (possibly “revived” by “On This Day” or “Memories”) continued its viral spread. The post consisted of what appeared to be a screenshot of a headline reading “California Inmate Has Now Beaten to Death 2 Child Molesters With a Cane While in Prison, Authorities Say”:
The post was originally shared by the page “Busted Locals,” and text under the headline and image read:
A California inmate caused the deaths of two child molesters after beating their heads with a walking cane last week, authorities said.
Jonathan Watson, 41, allegedly attacked David Bobb, 48, and Graham De Luis-Conti, 62, on Thursday at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran.
They were taken to the hospital with head wounds. Bobb died en route. Luis-Conti was pronounced dead three days later. Both men were serving life prison sentences for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 years old.
A similar image was shared to meme aggregator iFunny.co on November 21 2020, with similar text auto-populated underneath it.
Use of temporally-specific phrasing (“last week,” “on Thursday”) enables stories like these to spread in perpetuity, reading as current events months, and sometimes years, after they were initially posted or shared. In this case, it didn’t take long to find the depicted item (archived), which was published on January 23 2020 on Pluralist.com; the text in the screenshot accurately reflected the content of the beginning of the piece.
A February 22 2020 Associated Press report provided further context for the the version published on Pluralist.com. In a February 22 2020 article, “California inmate writes letter to newspaper, says he killed 2 molesters in prison,” the outlet reported Watson made the claims in a letter to news sources:
CORCORAN, Calif. — A California inmate serving a life sentence for murder confessed in a letter that he beat to death two child molesters with another inmate’s cane hours after a prison counselor ignored his urgent warning that he might become violent.
In a letter to the Bay Area News Group, Jonathan Watson, 41, said he clubbed both men in the head on Jan. 16  at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in the small central California city of Corcoran.
The first attack occurred after Watson became enraged that one of the sex offenders was watching a children’s television show, the East Bay Times reported [on February 20 2020].
Prisoner David Bobb, 48, died that day [January 16 2020]. Graham De Luis-Conti, 62, died three days later [January 19 2020] at a hospital. Both were serving life sentences for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14.
Days before the [January 16 2020] attack, Watson said his security classification was changed and he was transferred from a single-person cell to a lower-security dormitory pod at the Central Valley facility. Watson called the switch a “careless” mistake and said he left “quite a paper trail” protesting it.
The AP indicated that Watson “believed [one] man began taunting other inmates by watching children’s television programming,” quoting a portion of Watson’s letter:
I could not sleep having not done what every instinct told me I should’ve done right then and there, so I packed all of my things because I knew one way or another the situation would be resolved the following day
Watson was further quoted as saying that he “went to work” on the man purportedly watching childrens’ television in view of other inmates, using a cane to beat the man to death. In a letter, Watson stated his status as a “a lifer” placed him “in a unique position where [he] sometimes [has] access to these people,” along with “so little to lose.”
The piece continued:
Watson said he then left the housing pod to find a guard and turn himself in, but on the way, he saw “a known child trafficker, and I figured I’d just do everybody a favor,” Watson wrote. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
A paywalled Mercury-News article corroborated Watson’s January 2020 claims in February 2020, including a significant level of context about Watson’s prior claim that his transfer to lower-security dormitories was a “mistake”:
In a letter to this news organization, Watson, 41, said he murdered David Bobb, 48, and Graham De Luis-Conti, 62, with another inmate’s cane just one week after being transferred to California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran.
In a news release [in January 2020], prison officials identified Watson as the person responsible for the Jan. 16  killings and said he had “attacked two inmates with a weapon … causing multiple head wounds to both victims.” Bobb died later that day, officials said, and De Luis-Conti perished three days later at a local hospital. Both men were serving life sentences for convictions of aggravated sexual assault involving children under the age of 14, prison officials said … In the letter, Watson said he had recently been given a lower-level security classification, from Level III to Level II, prompting his transfer from a single-person cell to dorm-style living at the Corcoran prison. Watson was displeased by the transfer, which he called a “careless” mistake by CDCR, adding he left “quite a paper trail” of grievances protesting it.
On October 29 2020, the same news organization published a follow-up article (“California prison staff cleared in case of man who beat two convicted child molesters to death after warning he would soon get violent”):
CORCORAN — An internal review at the state prison known as the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility cleared a staffer who was allegedly warned of impending violence an hour before one inmate beat two others to death with a cane, targeting both victims because they were convicted of sex crimes against children.
Jonathan Watson, 42, wrote a letter to this news organization confessing to using another inmate’s cane to murder David Bobb, 48, and Graham De Luis-Conti, 62, just one week after being transferred to the prison in Corcoran last January. In his letter, Watson said he requested a transfer to a counselor and warned that violence would follow if his “urgent” request wasn’t heeded.
The story added that Watson had since been moved to a Segregated Housing Unit (SHU), and quoted him as saying:
“It sort of felt like the end of everything for me … But everyone’s support has sort of lifted my spirits.”
Although the screenshot “California Inmate Has Now Beaten to Death 2 Child Molesters With a Cane While in Prison, Authorities Say” lacked significant context, the underlying claim was accurate, albeit slightly outdated as of February 2021. Watson sent a letter to California news organizations explaining the incidents, and authorities later corroborated his claims about the killings in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. Watson was later moved to segregated housing, and in an interview referenced “support” for his actions.