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Defense claims police coercion in Hayes trial

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 | 11:34 p.m. CDT; updated 9:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The first day of the murder trial of Dwight T. Hayes, center, who is accused in the shooting death of Cynthia White at the Comfort Inn on Nov. 24, 2007.

COLUMBIA — Dwight Tyrell Hayes told police that he was merely a lookout for another man who robbed and killed the general manager of a Clark Lane hotel. He called the man “C.J.”

But during testimony Wednesday in Boone County Circuit Court, “C.J.” dissolved into thin air as testimony from a Columbia police detective and another witness suggested a second man never existed.

Hayes, 21, didn’t take the stand in his own defense for second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action in the slaying of Cynthia White, 55, on Nov. 24, 2007.

But in statements to police, Hayes said a man named Charles Jones, whom he also called “C4,” from Jefferson City was the gunman in White’s slaying. Though a man of that name and city does exist, it is by chance because Hayes randomly came up with both, according to prosecution witnesses.

In a conversation between Hayes and his stepmother, Deidra Hayes, recorded while he was in the Boone County Jail, Hayes said, “There was never no C.J.” However, in the same recording, played for the jury, Hayes insisted that there was another person involved in the shooting but refused to identify him.

Columbia police detective Joseph Jackson testified that a Jefferson City man named Charles Jones was interviewed about the crime but was eliminated as a suspect. Jones was never arrested or charged in connection with the crime.

With no evidence of another shooter, Hayes’ Public Defender Kevin O’Brien took another tack. He questioned Jackson about Hayes’ treatment in the eight hours after Hayes was arrested. In particular, he asked about the room’s temperature because Hayes’ clothes were taken when he was questioned, and he was wearing only a paper suit.

O’Brien asserted that Hayes “made a statement that conformed to what police wanted him to say.” When O’Brien suggested that detectives were looking for their own version of the truth, Jackson said he recognizes truth, “kind of in your gut — also, matching evidence and statements up.”

The defense only called two witnesses, Columbia Police Detective Bryan Liebhart and Officer Tim Timmerman, before resting its case.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution introduced as evidence two weapons — a small caliber handgun and a stun gun. According to testimony, two sets of fingerprints were found on the handgun: Hayes’ and those of his cousin, Orlando Collier.

When O’Brien suggested that Collier might have been the actual gunman, Liebhart told O’Brien that the presence of Collier’s fingerprints was consistent with the story Hayes told police, that he’d asked Collier to hide the gun for him.

Collier is not charged in the case but has a preliminary hearing on Friday for tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution.

In earlier testimony, Boone County Deputy Medical Examiner Eddie Adelstein said that White had been Tasered before she was killed.

White was burned and bruised on her lower right forearm — wounds consistent with a direct-contact Taser, Adelstein testified. White’s attacker used the stun gun from a close distance to immobilize her before killing her, he testified.

Adelstein said he concluded that White died from a gunshot to the face between her nose and lip where the gun was 1 inch to 18 inches away.

Two Columbia police officers testified about evidence found at the hotel where White was killed and the house where Hayes was arrested that suggested he’d used a stun gun. Officer Jim Watson testified that he found two batteries and a piece of black plastic at the scene of the crime. Detective Jeff Nichols testified that he found a stun gun that was missing batteries and a piece of plastic similar to the one found at the crime scene while searching the residence at 1812 McKee St. where Hayes was arrested.

In earlier testimony, the victim’s son, Ernest White, told the jury about a series of text messages he and his mother exchanged on the night she was killed.

Visibly upset, especially when asked how he knew the victim, Ernest White said he texted his mother about a ring he saw around the moon that night.

“She liked looking at stars and stuff,” he said.

His mother texted back that she couldn’t remember the explanation her father had given for the moon ring, so she looked up the phenomenon on the Internet in the hotel office. She texted back that the ring was caused by ice crystals that reflect light off of the moon, he said.

“Thanks, you’re a lot of help,” he said he texted back upon receiving her answer.

The last message his mother sent back at 1:36 a.m. said, “Go to bed and get some sleep.”

It was the last time he communicated with his mother, who was found dead after guests at the hotel became concerned when calls to the front desk went unanswered. Hayes was arrested the next day after a CrimeStoppers tipster identified him in surveillance video taken from the Hampton Inn during an earlier burglary on Nov. 13. He is scheduled to be tried on the burglary charge on July 1.

In April, Hayes pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, forcible sodomy, forcible rape, four counts of armed criminal action, first-degree robbery and first-degree tampering in connection with the rape and sodomy of a clerk at the same hotel on Nov. 15. The hotel was called the Fairfield Inn at that time.

Hayes’ murder trial resumes Thursday at 8:30 a.m. with closing statements, after which the jury will deliberate. The all-white jury is made up of eight men and six women.


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