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#1 Aug 8, 2007
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS)- They are accused of preying on children, and some have even pleaded guilty to these crimes. Dozens of internet sex predator convictions could now be overturned.
Since 2004 there have been 84 arrests, all men who thought they were talking to 13 or 14-year-old boys and girls online. Twenty-four have already pleaded guilty.
"They're guilty. We know they're guilty. You ought to read this stuff. It will make you sick," says Attorney General Henry McMaster.
But some of them may soon receive a get out of jail free card. A ruling by Spartanburg Circuit Judge Mark Hayes has put the state's internet predator program in jeopardy.
McMaster says, "We think this order by the judge is wrong and will be reversed on appeal."
It stems from the case of Anthony Odom, 33, an attorney and former assistant solicitor in Aiken.
Odom was arrested for having sexual chats with an officer posing as a 13-year-old girl. But before Odom went to trial, Judge Hayes called into question the procedure authorities used to track down Odom and other internet predator suspects, because an internet screen name could belong to anyone around the world.
South Carolina law enforcement goes to internet service providers - like Yahoo, Road Runner and AOL - to get a suspect's personal information. McMaster says, "The federal and state law allows it. There's no prohibition to doing this. We are following the federal statute."
Judge Hayes doesn't agree. While he's gone on record saying he can't comment on the case, Hayes noted state law requires a higher standard than the federal law regarding how authorities obtain personal information from internet companies. It's an argument that was used in another case back in May of 2006, but was thrown out.
"The law is good. The procedures are good. It's working well," says the attorney general.
Before the state's Internet Predator program passed in 2004, the procedures on how they get personal information were signed off on by the state supreme court.
So what's next? The state's internet predator program is moving forward, but the attorney general's office has turned its cases over to the feds while the appeals process continues. It's a process that could take up to a year, officials say.
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