Monday, April 4, 2011

Free Speech: Online Murder "Game" Leads to Legislative Action.

In 2009, Andrew Scott Haley used the online screen name “catchmekiller” to post a video on YouTube which stated he killed 16 people. The video, which hid his face and voice, offered “clues” to locations of bodies. Haley promised to reveal his true identify if his viewers played along, but warned "Don't try to chase me." ( Andrew Scott Haley Vs. The State of Georgia, CASE NO. S11A0606. T. 6161-167).

Investigators viewed the video and took Haley seriously, especially because he referred to Tara Ginstead, a woman who disappeared in 2005 from her home in Ocilla, Ga. He did not mention her by name, but prosecutors said he clearly identified her by describing her background as a teacher and beauty queen.

“She was still wearing her favorite pair of jeans, but not her beauty queen silk,” Healy said.

In addition, Haley also claimed to have information about Jennifer Kesse, an Orlando woman who went missing in 2006. Haley sent a link of the video to Kesse’s father along with the message: “Maybe I can help.” (T360-61)

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

It turns out Haley was lying. He was charged with tampering with evidence and making false statements. Haley’s trial lasted a week in Hall County Superior Court in Gainesville, Georgia.

The jury found Healy guilty on May 21st, 2010. Judge Andrew Fuller sentenced Haley to a two-year work-release program and several years of probation and fines.

Haley has since appealed. In Andrew Scott Haley vs. The State of Georgia, CASE NO. S11A0606, Haley's team is asking the Georgia State Supreme Court to overturn the conviction. He claims his free speech rights were violated. His defense is asking the court to strike down the law used to charge him with making false statements, arguing it was flawed because it doesn't distinguish between a false statement and a fraudulent one.

Thousands of people across the country 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.”

Jordan also said what Haley did was no different than writing a song like Bob Marley's “I shot the sheriff.” I do not agree with this argument, because Bob Marley did not say “I shot the sheriff, Tom Smith, in New York City and maybe I can help you find him.” By clearly identifying the missing women, the argument that he was simply writing lyrics or playing a game for fun does not hold water.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said that his agency spent a lot of time and effort on Haley’s case.

"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."

The victims' families, including those of Jennifer Kesse, who is still missing, said Haley’s lies were heartless, painful and cruel. They say the freedom of speech does not cause unjustified panic.

Under the First Amendment there is freedom of speech. But, as we learned in this class, that speech has certain limitations.

Following the trial, district attorney Lee Darragh said he intended to seek state legislation dealing with any possible future Internet hoaxes like Haley's.

"The First Amendment does not protect all speech especially that which is designed to cause unjustified panic and in this case, speech that could be reasonably expected to cause criminal investigations to occur as to the truth or falsity of criminal behavior a person claims on the Internet or through the media." Darragh said.

I agree that Haley caused a significant distraction in the investigators efforts. It was also a major waste of taxpayers’ dollars. The argument that his speech was simply a game is perhaps a reasonable argument, however, that speech interfered with a real-life investigation because he specifically named someone, which is the crux in this case. The jury found him guilty of false statements and tampering with evidence and I completely agree.

There are currently no new developments in Haley’s appeal, which was heard by the Georgia Supreme Court on March 21.

-Matt Finn


Here is the link to the PDF Brief of Appellant:


  1. well first off i never identified the location of a disappearance or any names of any characters in the game...second it stated all throughout my game that it was in fact just that.
    third the kesse case had nothing to do with any of my videos...look it up you can access all the information on the case.
    dont believe what you hear unless you hear it yourself. andrew scott haley

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