Defense lawyer stands by acquitted suspect implicated in 1990 murder case

·3 min read

The defense lawyer who represented former Florida death row inmate Robert Earl Hayes at his retrial 25 years ago still says he is innocent, brushing off the Broward State Attorney’s finding that DNA evidence confirmed he was guilty of murder all along.

Hayes, 58, will be up for parole in three years in New York State for a 1987 homicide case to which he pleaded guilty in 2004. As part of his defense, the Innocence Project of New York asked Broward prosecutors to review the DNA evidence that once had Hayes facing the death penalty.

The review concluded semen found in victim Pamela Albertson’s body belonged to Hayes, while hair found in her hand was her own.

“If that’s all the Broward State Attorney’s Office is relying on, they’re overstating their case,” said defense lawyer Barbara Heyer. “That does not say Robert Hayes committed the murder, and I still don’t think he did.”

Albertson was murdered in 1990 in Pompano Beach, and Hayes was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to death in 1992. But the Florida Supreme Court, questioning the validity of the DNA testing method, reversed his conviction.

At the retrial, the DNA evidence placing Hayes at the crime scene was muted. Back then, no one knew for sure where the hairs came from, allowing Heyer to suggest another suspect, a white man who knew both the victim and the defendant. The hair belonged to a Caucasian. Hayes is Black.

“Hayes had sex with the victim before,” Heyer said. “That was never what we were talking about. It was always the hair.”

The argument was good enough for the jury to find Hayes not guilty after deliberating only a few hours, Heyer said.

Heyer was not involved with the latest developments in the case, which started with a request from Hayes’ advocates with the Innocence Project of New York, which chose the lab and paid for the testing.

All seven hairs in the victim’s hand were tested, but only two yielded DNA results. Both came back to the victim. The alternative suspect proposed by the defense at the 1997 trial was ruled out, according to a report filed by Broward Sheriff’s Det. John Curcio, who assisted the State Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit in conducting the DNA review.

Hayes, meanwhile, only admitted to having sex with the victim “months” before the murder, said Curcio. That could not account for his DNA at the crime scene, which was preserved at the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office after the victim’s autopsy. The sample was never sent to any crime lab and there was no opportunity for contamination, Curcio said.

“Could he have gotten into an argument with her after having sex? Sure,” Curcio speculated. “But that’s not what he said happened.”

In the New York case, Hayes admitted to killing the victim, Leslie Dickenson, by accident during a fight over money he wanted for drugs.

Attempts to reach the Innocence Project of New York for comment Wednesday and Thursday were unsuccessful.

Rafael Olmeda may be reached at rolmeda@sunsentinel.com. Call or text him at 954-356-4457. Follow him on Twitter @rolmeda.