DNA points to guilt in 1990s case where man found not-guilty

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Hundreds of decades-old cold cases are being solved by the advances in DNA. And sometimes, as in the case of Robert Earl Hayes, DNA is implicating someone that a court acquitted or found not-guilty.  

DNA tests showed that Hayes was found not-guilty in the second murder trial of  Pamela Albertson. She was a horse groomer at a Florida racetrack where she and Hayes both worked.  And she was raped and murdered in 1990.

According to Pryor, the Innocence Project of New York contacted his office’s Conviction Review Unit in late 2020 requesting assistance in reviewing Hayes’s claim to be innocent of the New York murder of Leslie Dickenson.

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Authorities made the announcement on Wednesday that both the hairs in Albertson’s hand and her vaginal DNA were tested. The hair belonged to the victim. And it was discovered that the DNA in her vagina was a  match to Mr. Hayes.

Pryor says this effectively proves that the police had the right man all along.

Not-guilty verdict based on early DNA technology

According to Pryor’s statement, Hayes was tried and convicted of Albertson’s death in 1991. And he received the death sentence. 

The conviction was overturned in 1995 by the Florida Supreme Court. The basis for the court’s ruling was the DNA testing technique. The original DNA test, which was one of the first in Florida was deemed unreliable.

Dan Krane is an expert on DNA evidence. He explains that “specific DNA testing used at that time was called “band-shifting.” The lab slightly tweaked the bands on a DNA test, which would have been on X-ray film in the 1990s.

“The court was saying, if the band-shifting didn’t occur, this wouldn’t be a good match,” Professor Krane said.

That evidence was removed from the case. And not allowed in the next trial. In 1997, with no DNA evidence allowed, a Florida jury found Hayes not-guilty at the retrial.

At the first trial, DNA tests required larger samples to be effective.” Like a blood stain the size of a quarter.” Professor Krane explained.

Now an accurate DNA test can be done on microscopic samples so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye.  Only a few cells left by a suspect are enough. Even if decades have passed the cells don’t degenerate if they are kept in a cool, dark laboratory, he said.

Investigators in 2021 did a “differential extraction” DNA test for this case, which separates sperm cells from other types of cells, said Professor Krane. 

Hayes was convicted of killing another woman

Hayes, now 58, is in state prison in New York serving 15 to 45 years for manslaughter in the 1987 murder of Dickenson, a horse groomer at the Vernon Downs racetrack where she and Hayes both worked.

Prosecutors said Hayes was working the track circuit when he was seen with Albertson immediately before her death. And he also had “discovered” Dickenson’s body 3-years-earlier.

In the Dickenson murder case in 2004, Hayes pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson, and burglary.

Hayes will be eligible for parole in 2025. And Broward County authorities would like to prevent his release.

The former death row inmate cannot be tried again for the Albertson’s murder. Since a jury said he was not-guilty. 

Since the second trial, Hayes has been celebrated as a wrongfully convicted man. He is one of the few exonerated death row inmates. And the story of his now questionable “innocence” can be seen in the CourtTV movie “The Exonerated.” 

State Attorney Pryor points out that a “not guilty” verdict is not an exoneration. To be truly exonerated would mean that there is absolute certainty Hayes did not commit the murder. And DNA says he did!