Robert Earl Hayes

Gresham's Law in reverse: Good science drives out bad

Robert Earl Hayes was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 32-year-old woman who worked with him at a horse racetrack in Broward County, Florida.

The conviction rested in substantial part on the testimony of a witness who claimed to have seen Hayes with the victim and heard her reject his advances shortly before the murder.

In addition, the prosecution presented a DNA analysis purporting to link Hayes to the crime. However, the defense attacked the forensic analysis as sloppy and established that several light-colored hairs had been found in the victim's hands. These could not have come from Hayes, because he was African American.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial on direct appeal in 1995, holding the allegedly incriminating DNA unreliable.

New DNA testing was conducted with proper controls. It exonerated Hayes, but the prosecution refused to drop the charges. Hayes was acquitted upon retrial in 1997.

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Broward County, Florida
Date of crime: February 20, 1990
Date of arrest: February 21, 1990
Charge: First-degree murder
Sentence: Death
Release date: July 16, 1997
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 89
Date of birth: 1964
Age at time of arrest: 26
Defendant race: African American
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record: None
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: Junk science, prosecutorial misconduct
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? No
Exonerated by: DNA
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment: None as of December 2002

— Rob Warden