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Robert Hays

Other No Crime Exonerations with False Confessions
In July 1992, eight-year-old Jennifer Hays and her mother, Karen, told police in Las Vegas, Nevada, that Jennifer’s father, 33-year-old Robert Hays, had molested and raped Jennifer on at least four occasions from August 1991 until June 1992.

Robert and Karen Hays had moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Las Vegas with their five children in 1991. Robert worked as a security guard and Karen worked at a casino—each handling a different shift so they could care for their children.

Their marriage was rocky. They had separated in New York and Robert got custody of the children after Karen had numerous extra-marital affairs and abused drugs and alcohol. She also was physically and psychologically abusive to the children and frequently forced Jennifer, who was the oldest, to care for her four younger siblings. After several months, they got back together and moved west.

When police began investigating the initial claims of sexual assault, Jennifer told the prosecutor that the claim was false and that she was forced to make the accusation because her mother threatened to kill her if she didn’t. That statement was not disclosed to Hays’ defense lawyer.

By the time Hays went to trial in Clark County Circuit Court in March 1993, the five children had been placed in the custody of the state Child Protective Services after Karen Hays admitted she was having an affair with another man and was pregnant with his child.

Jennifer testified that her father had raped and molested her beginning in August 1991 after they moved from Brooklyn. She was unable to say when the assaults occurred and admitted that she told the police detective that the last assault occurred on June 18, 1992—two days after Hays was arrested.

The police detective testified that Hays had confessed to the assaults to him and also denied that Jennifer said the last attack was on June 18. The detective said she told him it was June 13—three days prior to Hays’ arrest.

Jennifer’s mother, Karen Hays, testified that Jennifer told her that she had been sexually assaulted. She admitted on cross-examination that during a hearing in Juvenile Court on the state’s motion to remove the children from her custody, she testified that the reports of sexual assaults were false and that she had coached Jennifer to make the false accusation. She said her testimony in Juvenile Court had been false because she wanted to keep her children. The Juvenile Court judge had referred Karen Hays to the Clark County District Attorney’s Office to consider charges of child neglect, but the matter was not pursued.

A nurse who worked for the Clark County District Attorney’s office used a “dime store” ruler to examine Jennifer’s genitals and testified that the girl had been sexually assaulted. She called the case one of the worse assault cases she had ever seen.

Hays testified in his own defense. He denied any improper conduct with Jennifer and told the jury that he believed Karen had forced Jennifer to concoct the claims so that Karen could get a divorce and live with the man whose child she was carrying. He denied he had confessed and said he merely told the officer he wanted to turn himself in when he learned police wanted to question him.

On March 3, 1993, the jury convicted Hays of four counts of sexual assault of a minor and four counts of lewd conduct with a minor. A week later, Jennifer told her grandparents that she had lied and that no assaults had occurred. A motion for a new trial was filed, but the judge denied it after a social worker filed an affidavit saying that Jennifer had recanted the recantation. Hays was sentenced to four sentences of life in prison to be served consecutively.

After his appeals to the Nevada Court of Appeals and the Nevada Supreme Court were denied, Hays filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Meanwhile Jennifer continued to recant and appeared on the television shows of Maury Povich and Montel Williams to plead her father’s innocence.

In March 2007, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt granted the petition and ordered Hays conviction vacated and his immediate release on the ground that he was factually innocent. “His motion for a new trial on the basis of the victim’s recantation was improperly denied,” the judge declared. Hays “suffered convictions for a number of crimes which were never showed to have occurred.”

The judge found that the prosecutor had failed to disclose Jennifer’s first recantation as well as evidence that Karen Hays had written a letter to a friend saying she had found someone who would kill Robert Hays for $100. The judge also ruled that the police detective had falsely testified that Hays confessed—in reality Hays, after learning that an arrest warrant had been issued, merely told the detective he wanted to turn himself in.

The defense lawyer for Hays, the judge ruled, had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to object to improper comments made by the prosecutor, failing to obtain a medical expert to challenge the nurse who testified for the prosecution and failing to adequate cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.

On March 22, 2007, Hays was released from prison and the case was dismissed.

Hays later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutor, the detective, the nurse and Hays’ trial defense lawyer. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/2/2015
State:Nevada
County:Clark
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:2007
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:33
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No