Hayes receives life sentence for murder of former Comfort Inn hotel manager

Monday, August 4, 2008 | 10:43 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In a sentencing hearing on Monday night, Dwight T. Hayes was sentenced to life in prison, along with 147 years to be served both consecutively and concurrently, which means Hayes will spend life plus 55 years for murder, rape, burglary and other charges.

Hayes, 22, was convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action on June 26 for the Nov. 24, 2007 slaying of Cynthia White, former Comfort Inn hotel manager.

"We don't feel that he should be able to walk the streets," said Connie Pyhliei, sister of the murder victim, during her testimony. "He's still going to be able to breathe, read, walk and talk to his family."

Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight asked Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton to combine the dates of the sentencing hearings for the separate rape and murder incidents into one hearing. The sentencing hearing for the rape case was previously scheduled for July 18.

"He not only took a general manager, he took a sister, a mother, a grandmother and a friend," Pyhliei said during the hearing.

White was the second oldest of six sisters; the eldest had died in 2001. Before the hearing, Pyhliei said losing her oldest sister was what she thought was going to be the hardest thing she would deal with. Then she, along with her other three sisters, were confronted with the violence of White's death that deeply impacted the tightly knit extended family.

Though Hayes did not take the stand in his own defense in the murder trial, he did testify at the sentencing hearing. During his testimony, he cursed at Knight, and claimed the rape was consensual, even though Detective Joseph Jackson with the Columbia Police Department said Hayes was holding a gun throughout the rape incident. Hayes also said he was "coked up and drunk." When Knight asked why, Hayes said, "When you're in a depressed state, you do a lot of stupid stuff."

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, 2007. The hotel was called the Fairfield Inn at the time.

When recommending the sentence, Knight told the judge that he could see no redeeming qualities in Hayes and emphasized Hayes' shopping spree after he shot White, as well as Hayes' several prior convictions in other counties.

"I hope every time he closes his eyes, he sees my beautiful sister where he left her to go on his shopping spree," Pyhliei said.

Public Defender Kevin O'Brien asked the judge to consider the fact that Hayes was sexually and physically abused by his stepfather several times before being removed from the home at the age of 13.

Hayes' father and stepmother were both present for the sentencing hearing. As court was adjourned at 8:30 p.m., Pyhliei hugged Hayes' stepmother after an exchange of soft words and tears.

Hayes' parents and attorney declined to comment.


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