By posting a pair of videos of himself on the Internet falsely claiming to have killed 16 people and implying he was involved in the abduction of a missing Georgia woman, Andrew Scott Haley broke the law, a jury decided Friday.
In what could be the first case of its kind in Georgia, Haley, 28, was convicted of felony tampering with evidence and making false statements and was sentenced by Hall County Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller to two years in a work-release jail.
Haley’s short videos, which were posted in early February 2009 on the video-sharing website YouTube, showed him with his face digitally blacked out and speaking in a deep, electronically-altered voice. At the end of one video are clues that reference the case of a missing Ocilla woman. Haley posted a link to the video on a Web page dedicated to a missing Florida woman, along with the words, “Maybe I can help.”
The families of the two missing women said Friday they were thrown into emotional turmoil by the videos, which were credited to “catchmekiller” and prompted an extensive criminal investigation.
“We thought we might have found out what happened to our daughter,” said Joyce Kesse, mother of Jennifer Kesse, an Orlando, Fla., woman missing since January 2006. “The posting of that YouTube video was so heartless and painful and cruel.”
Connie Grinstead, stepmother of missing Ocilla woman Tara Grinstead, said she held on to hope that her stepdaughter, missing since October 2005, would still be alive.
“On the day I found out about your video, you robbed me of that hope,” Grinstead said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation spent hundreds of hours tracking down the source of the videos before interviewing Haley at his Gainesville home and determining there was no evidence he had anything to do with either woman’s disappearance.
Haley was charged with tampering with evidence for “knowingly creating false evidence to prevent the apprehension of and to obstruct the prosecution of another person,” according to the indictment. He also was charged with making false statements when he said in one of the videos that he killed 16 people.
Haley, who testified in his own defense, never denied posting the videos. He said he made them for an interactive mystery game and chose Grinstead’s case for the clues because she was a missing woman in his home state.
In an unusual case that pitted First Amendment rights in the Internet age against the interests of the criminal justice system, Haley’s attorney argued that her client’s videos were no different than the fiction found in movies, literature and songs.
In her closing argument to the jury, public defender Kristin Jordan quoted the song, “I Shot the Sheriff.”
“Bring Bob Marley in here, because either that was a confession or a false statement,” Jordan said. “(We know) it’s not — it’s a character in a song.”
“Everything points to his intent to create a game,” Jordan said. “Constantly he’s saying game, game, game. He conceived of this game in that world of fantasy.”
In the videos shown to the jury, Haley speaks of leaving clues that lead to bodies, which lead to additional clues. He says it is pointless for law enforcement to try to find him.
Assistant District Attorney J.D. Hart told the jury in her closing that Haley knew people would take his videos seriously.
“He wanted people to believe he was a real serial killer,” Hart said.
“What the defendant did is terrorize those families,” she continued. “He did it for his own selfish entertainment purposes. He wanted to be known for something — that’s not just a game. In Georgia, you don’t get to claim you murdered someone and post it on the Internet and when the GBI comes knocking on your door, say it’s just a game.”
The jury of seven women and five men spent less than an hour deliberating before returning with the verdict of guilty on both counts.
“We applied the law the judge gave us, and we just felt that after seeing the videos and hearing the testimony of the witnesses, that what he did came under the law, and he was truly guilty of the violations,” juror Brenda Ramsay said after the trial.
Ramsay said the jury did not let the emotional effect of the testimony from the two missing women’s relatives affect its deliberations.
“(But) I can say my heart breaks for them,” Ramsay said. “For the loss of their children, the doubt, and then to have someone almost taunt them.”
Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said after the trial that the First Amendment does not protect all speech, “especially that which is designed to cause unjustified panic, such as yelling fire in a crowded theater where there is no fire.
“In this case, there was speech by this defendant by which he could have reasonably expected to cause an extensive criminal investigation as to whether his claims were true or false, to the detriment of these families and the public at large,” Darragh said.
Darragh said he hopes the state legislature will create a law that more specifically addresses similar situations.
Haley was apologetic as he addressed the court after his conviction.
“I made a mistake,” Haley said. “I hurt a lot of people. I learned from my mistake. I just want to tell the families I am sorry.”
Fuller told Haley that his actions were “an egregious example of complete lack of concern and care and consideration for other people.”
“The court can’t fathom what was going through your mind,” Fuller said. “It’s not within this court’s grasp to understand what you did and why you did it.”
The judge’s full sentence was 10 years, with the majority of it to be served on probation once Haley completes 24 months in work release. He also fined Haley $4,000 and ordered him to undergo mental health evaluation and treatment if any mental health issues are identified.
“I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be one here,” Fuller said.