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‘They can hang me,’ Laurens cop killer once said

A Laurens County sheriff’s deputy had been dead for 16 hours when two GBI agents stepped into his killer’s hospital room.

The killer had been wounded in the shootout he started moments after the deputy stopped him for speeding down Interstate 16 at 98 mph.

Andrew Howard Brannan had survived the firefight.

Shot nine times, deputy Kyle Wayne Dinkheller, a 22-year-old husband and father of two, had not. He died beside his patrol car along Whipple’s Crossing Road, just off the interstate near Dudley on the western outskirts of Dublin.

The agents, Alan Watson and Dean McManus, were at Brannan’s bedside in Fairview Park Hospital in Dublin. They were there to help build the case that would send Brannan to death row.

It was 10:20 a.m. on Jan. 13, 1998 -- 17 years to the day of Brannan’s scheduled Tuesday night execution.

What Brannan said that morning would be used against him at trial. Prosecutors would remind jurors of them as they argued that Brannan should be put to death.

Brannan, then 49, who said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Vietnam, recalled grabbing his rifle -- a .30-caliber M1 carbine -- from his Toyota pickup and gaining the upper hand in his roadside assault on Dinkheller.

As he spoke at the hospital, according to a GBI transcript, Brannan chuckled. The deputy, he said, was just a kid.

“I got my weapon out (laugh) ... he was foolish. (Laugh) He was young,” Brannan said. “It was sad, ... real sad.”

Later he told the agents that in the hours after his attack on Dinkheller, he knew his actions would “devastate the rest of my life.”

“My life just flipped flopped, ah, right there in, ah, those minutes,” he said. “So I said, ‘Well, that’s it for me. I don’t care what happens, ah, they can kill me, ah, they can shoot me in the head, ah, they can hang me from the nearest tree. They can do what they want.’’’

Brannan, whose small computer business had failed, was on his way to the land he owned in Laurens County when Dinkheller pulled him over.

Brannan was building a retreat, a cabin to escape the bustle of Stockbridge in suburban Atlanta where he lived with his mother. Henry County, he said, was becoming “too populated for my well being.”

“He can’t handle stress,” his mother, Esther Brannan, told The Telegraph after his arrest.

‘A MENTAL DISORDER’

When the GBI agents asked about the “incident,” the gun battle with Dinkheller, Brannan said, “I haven’t been able to assimilate it very well as to the flow, so to speak.”

He described himself as “a disabled veteran.”

“I have a mental disorder and I don’t seem to be able to do much about it except, you know, take the medications that the V.A. tells me to take,” Brannan said.

He seemed to blame Dinkheller for not knowing how to deal with him when, during the traffic stop, Brannan, as he put it, began “jumping around like a dadgum Irishman,” urging the deputy to shoot him.

A video of the Jan. 12, 1998, encounter, captured on a dashboard camera in Dinkheller’s car, shows a scene that is nothing short of harrowing.

Brannan cusses Dinkheller, dances his jig in the road and, arms flailing, says in a sing-song voice, “Here I am, here I am ... shoot me,” before charging the deputy.

“Get back!” Dinkheller says. “Sir, get back! Now!”

The two shout and Brannan refuses to comply with the deputy’s commands.

“I am a (expletive) Vietnam combat veteran!” Brannan says before retreating maybe 20 feet to his truck.

Through a thin treeline, cars with their headlights on can be seen cruising past in the gray of a rainy Monday afternoon.

Brannan reaches into his pickup.

“Put the gun down!” Dinkheller cries. “Put the gun down! Put it down now! Put the gun down! Drop the gun now!”

Brannan does not and the shooting starts.

Blast upon blast, the scene plays out over 80 seconds:

Brannan firing some 30 shots, emptying his rifle and reloading; Dinkheller shooting back; Dinkheller screaming; Brannan closing in and executing him; Brannan speeding away.

‘WEAPONS ARE WEAPONS’

At the hospital the next morning after his arrest, Brannan told the agents, “Y’all need to work on your techniques.”

He was referring to his perception of the way cops approach people. He claimed he had tried to warn Dinkheller. He reasoned that the deputy should have let him drive off, go on his way.

“I told him that I feared for my life and that I was scared and that ... I was a Vietnam veteran and, ah, I thought we should have something else to say to each other besides whatever he was saying,” Brannan said. “So, ah, I think that frustrated me.”

Brannan referred to his rifle as “my weapon.”

He chuckled some more.

He said, “I called it a weapon because I was born and raised in a military family and I didn’t learn to hug, you know, animals, ah, and weapons are weapons, that’s what they are designed (for) ... to hurt people.”

Before the agents left, Brannan said, “It’s over for me. And it’s like I didn’t live through PTSD after all.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this story.

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