‘Catch Me Killer' says he's guilty of hoax, not a crime

Convicted man argues state's false-statement law is unconstitutional

On YouTube videos, he promised to leave clues in an interactive game and told viewers if they followed along, they would eventually learn his identity. "Don't try to chase me," he said. "Don't try to catch me."

Shortly after his first clue made it clear he was referring to a former South Georgia beauty queen who had been missing since 2005, authorities got involved.

It turned out to be a hoax. But that did not stop a Hall County jury from convicting Andrew Scott Haley of Gainesville last May of making false statements and tampering with evidence.

On Monday, Haley's lawyer asked the Georgia Supreme Court to overturn her client's convictions because he told GBI agents the truth when they confronted him about his postings. She also asked the court to declare the state's false-statement law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds because it allows someone to be punished for false speech.

The false-statement law is an effective law enforcement tool in that it often prods witnesses to give true information. Giving false statements to a law enforcement officer is a felony and can bring a punishment of up to five years in prison.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh conceded that Haley never lied to agents and acknowledged the case is highly unusual. But the law does not require the false statements to be made to a government agent, he said.

This prompted Justice David Nahmias to pose a number of hypothetical examples. What about Internet videos that accuse the Israelis of really being behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks? he asked. Could the FBI be brought in to investigate whoever posted such a thing?

Probably not, Darrah said, because that was only someone's opinion.

Nahmias, a former U.S. attorney, noted that law enforcement often has to run down false leads. What about someone who falsely boasts that he committed an armed robbery? Nahmias wondered. If his friend told police about it and they investigated and found out it wasn't true, could they bring charges?

Possibly, Darragh said.

At trial, Hall prosecutors acknowledged Haley was playing a game to fool people on the Internet, but they also said he was causing real pain to the families who did not know whether their missing loved ones were dead or alive.

Haley, a 26-year-old roofer at the time, got himself into trouble in February 2009 when he posted the "Catch Me Killer" videos on YouTube. At the end of one video, he posted, "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."

Although he did not mention her by name, investigators knew Haley was referring to 30-year-old Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen who was a schoolteacher when she disappeared from her Oscilla home in 2005.

Haley also claimed to have information about an Orlando woman, Jennifer Kesse, who disappeared in 2006. Her father found out about it and contacted law enforcement. After issuing subpoenas to YouTube, agents found Haley through his Internet Protocol address.

After his conviction, Haley was sentenced to three years in prison for each of the offenses -- making false statements and evidence tampering. He is allowed to complete that sentence once he finishes two years in a work-release program.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Monday that his agency devoted a lot of time and effort on the "Catch Me Killer's" claims.

"You make these kinds of statements and we can't ignore them," he said. "We spent a lot of agent hours tracking all this down. It distracted agents from following substantial leads."

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