published Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Ga. man appeals conviction in serial killer hoax

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ATLANTA — Andrew Scott Haley used the online moniker "catchmekiller" to post a video claiming he killed 16 people, a callous lie that led investigators down dead-end trails and wasted countless hours of detective work, prosecutors said Monday.

Haley admits what he did was wrong, but believes his free speech rights were trampled during his elaborate attempt to get viewers involved in solving a mystery. He asked the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday to overturn his conviction.

Haley was convicted of tampering with evidence and making false statements after he posted the video on YouTube in February 2009. Once authorities tracked him down, they quickly determined he had nothing to do with the killings.

The video, which obscured his face and voice, purported to offer clues to where bodies were located and urged viewers to help him solve the crime. He promised to reveal his true identify if they played along, but warned "Don't try to chase me."

One of the postings included a reference to Tara Grinstead, who disappeared in 2005 from her home in Ocilla, Ga., in the southern part of the state. He never identified her by name, but prosecutors said he clearly referred to her by citing her background as a teacher and a former beauty queen.

"Who is she? What does she do? You answer me this, and I will give you her body. She was still wearing her favorite pair of jeans but not her beauty queen silk," he said in the video, which also included a fictitious address without an explanation.

Haley also claimed to have information on the unsolved 2006 disappearance of Jennifer Kesse, an Orlando woman whose father received a link to the video from Haley, along with the message: "Maybe I can help."

Haley's defense team asked the court to strike down the law used to charge him with making false statements, claiming it was flawed because it doesn't distinguish between a false statement and a fraudulent one.

Thousands of people across the nation have been charged with a similar federal law, but prosecutors and defense attorneys said Haley's situation appears to be unique because he didn't make the false statements directly to authorities.

"It allows a person to become a felon for making a statement to a friend, who relays it to a friend, who relays it to authorities," said Haley's attorney, Kristin Jordan. "There needs to be some limitations."

Haley was sentenced to two years in a work-release program, and several more years of probation.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation spent hundreds of hours trying to track down the video's maker before finding Haley in Gainesville, Ga. Authorities concluded he had nothing to do with either woman's disappearance, or any killings.

Lee Darragh, an assistant district attorney, said it shouldn't matter whether Haley made the statements directly to investigators. Haley's video was a self-serving lie that confounded investigators, he said.

Far from a free speech debate, Darragh he argued, the case is about "a false statement in a missing person investigation that was being conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at the time the statement was made."

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