COLUMBIA — The family of Cynthia White said they felt justice had been served after a jury found Dwight T. Hayes guilty Thursday morning of killing White last November at the Clark Lane hotel where she worked as general manager.
A Buchanan County jury took just two hours to convict Hayes of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action in the Nov. 24, 2007, crime at the Comfort Inn.
The courtroom was tensely silent as the family settled into a row at the back of the Boone County courtroom waiting for the jury to file in. Before the verdict was read, the family clasped hands to form a circle.
Hayes showed no reaction as Judge Gene Hamilton read the verdict.
“I don’t know if great is the word,” said Jeanie Nail, White’s sister, trying to describe her emotions after the jury returned its guilty verdict. “I feel that justice is served.”
Fortified with tissues, family and friends stopped briefly outside the courtroom to catch their breath.
A friend of the victim, Rita Riley of Cameron, said of White: “You couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
“She was the kindest, warmest person I’ve ever known,” said Margaret Ray of Maysville, another friend.
Ray moved to Missouri five years ago with her husband and stayed at the Comfort Inn, which she referred to as “Cindy’s hotel.” That’s where Ray got to know White, who helped the couple get settled.
Four months after moving, Ray’s husband got sick. “From then on, Cindy was at our side constantly,” Ray said. “And when he died, she kept it up.”
After her husband’s death, Ray and White took a trip together to China on White’s suggestion and “because we wanted to see it.”
Ray said the trial “opened all the wounds.”
The medical examiner’s photographs were particularly hard to endure, Riley said.
Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight said his biggest challenge in the case was the absence of physical evidence at the crime scene and lack of video surveillance tape. Furthermore, he said, the defendant lied continuously during his interrogation.
Knight said he learned a lot about White and her family during the investigation and that the trial was an emotional experience for him.
“My heart went out to her because she’d do anything for anybody,” Knight said. “It’s affected me quite a bit. That made it a lot easier to come in on Saturday and Sunday and after five. I wanted to make sure justice was done for Cynthia.”
He said he would seek the maximum sentence for Hayes on all three counts, which would total two life sentences plus 100 years. Sentencing is set for Aug. 4.
“He’s a stone-cold killer and a psychopath,” Knight said. “It’s my hope that he’ll never again be a free man,” he said.
Although the jury only deliberated for two hours, they asked the bailiff for a CD player and recordings of the phone calls Hayes made from prison to his stepmother. In those calls, Hayes told his stepmother that there never was another man at the crime scene who pulled the trigger.
When the jury handed down its verdict, Hayes’ blank facial expression remained unchanged as it had throughout the trial. He didn’t take the stand in his own defense.
“My client is very disappointed in the verdict, and we plan to file an appeal,” Public Defender Kevin O’Brien said as the jury was escorted from the courtroom.
Hayes has 35 days to file a motion for a new trial.
Hayes was arrested Nov. 25 after a CrimeStoppers tipster identified him in a media-disseminated 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 rape, forcible sodomy, four counts of armed criminal action 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 the time.
It was Cynthia White who took the rape victim — her co-worker — to the hospital eight days before White herself was killed.
White was also in the process of making the hotel safer before her death. Her brother-in-law, a locksmith, was there hours before she died to estimate costs for door locks. Surveillance cameras were installed six days after she was killed.