Gene Cooley, whostill grieves the loss of his financee, was awarded 404-thousand dollars in an internet libel case.
AUGUSTA, GA -- A Georgia man awarded $404,000 in civil court is now behind an effort to make libelous internet attacks a criminal act.
Each time he looks at photos of his fiancee, Gene Cooley is overwhelmed with loss.
It's a pain compounded by the small town gossip that followed his fiancee's death, the vicious chatter that spread like internet wildfire.
"How can you get on the internet and trash someone with no justification whatsoever, and think you can get away with it?" Cooley asked.
Cooley's fiancee was murdered in September 2008 in Union County. Shortly after that, a community discussion board lit up with wild accusations. An anonymous poster hiding behind 5 user names labeled Cooley, among other things, a pervert and a drug user. It was all total fabrication.
"I thought it was several people," said Cooley. "I didn't understand why they were attacking me."
Cooley became the talk of Blairsville. He lost his job. To escape the internet generated gossip, he moved to Augusta.
But he didn't surrender. He hired attorney Russell Stookey, who used the anonymous poster's IP address to track down and reveal a name. Stookey filed a lawsuit against Sybil Denise Ballew.
A Union County jury ruled that Ballew damaged Gene Cooley's reputation to the tune of $404,000.
"People who do this are mean spirited," said Stookey. "They think we can't catch them. They strike and slither like a snake in the grass. We proved we can catch them."
But Cooley isn't stopping there. He's working with a state legislator in an effort to make such false internet attacks a criminal act.
"It's a life or death epidemic, and I decided to live," said Cooley.
Gene Cooley doesn't own a computer, so he doesn't frequent the internet. He has no plans to buy one anytime soon.