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Reginald Hayes

Other Nevada Cases with a Codefendant Implicated the Exoneree
On the night of August 9, 1985, police in Las Vegas, Nevada began receiving reports of shots fired from a car described as a two-toned Toyota cruising through the city’s west side.

In one incident, an 18-year-old youth was shot in the buttocks while riding in the back of a pickup truck. In another, an 18-year-old youth was shot in the side while sitting in a car drinking beer. A third involved a 24-year-old man, who was shot in the ankle as he stood on the street. Police later determined that a 12-year-old girl suffered a graze wound to the neck in a fourth shooting—although the girl did not report the shooting until about 3 a.m.

At about the same time—by then August 10—police spotted a car fitting the description of the vehicle from which the shots were fired and chased it. The driver attempted to flee, but crashed the car into a building. Three of its occupants fled, but the fourth—14-year-old Reginald Hayes—remained inside.

Hayes, who had never before been arrested, was pulled out of the car at the point of a shotgun. He told police that he was in the car because he was supposed to get a ride home, but that the three others in the car refused to take him home.

Hayes said that not long before the police chased the car, he and the three others were driving around when they saw 21-year-old John Brown, a member of the U.S. Air Force stationed at nearby Nellis Air Force Base. Brown was working part-time delivering newspapers and was outside the Sierra Nevada Hotel.

According to Hayes, 15-year-old Donald Lee was the driver, 18-year-old Phillip Minor was in the front passenger seat, Hayes was in the rear passenger seat and 15-year-old Eddie Hampton was seated next to him. Minor (the front passenger) told Lee to stop the car when he saw Brown. Minor and Lee got out and ordered Brown into the back seat at gunpoint. Brown slid into the back seat and Hampton moved over to the middle next to Hayes. Lee drove the car to an alley where Lee, Hampton and Minor took Brown out and beat, kicked and robbed him of $9. All three returned to the car, where Hayes had remained. As they were getting ready to leave, Lee said he wanted to shoot Brown.

Hayes told the police that he, Minor and Hampton protested that Brown already had been beaten. But Lee got out of the car, walked down the alley and shot Brown with a .22-caliber rifle.

The police immediately went to the alley and found Brown’s body.

Later that day, Minor, Lee, Hampton, and Hayes were charged with first-degree murder. Ultimately, they each were also charged with four counts of attempted murder for the shootings that occurred before midnight on April 9, 1985.

Hayes, Lee and Hampton were charged as adults and went to trial in Clark County District Court. Minor pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The judge presiding over the trial was Paul Goldman, who—unbeknownst to the defendants and their lawyers—was suffering from mental illness and prone to sudden burst of anger and irrational behavior. (For example, he ordered the arrest of the county sheriff for refusing to answer the judge’s phone call and the arrest of an air-conditioning repairman who was doing work on the courthouse roof during a trial in the judge’s courtroom.)  In the middle of the trial, the case was recessed for several days after Goldman was found in his chambers lying on the floor in a fetal position.

Hayes was represented by a lawyer who was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and was the subject of a federal bribery investigation. Prior to the trial, the defense lawyer filed a motion to bring in several alibi witnesses who would testify that during the hours prior to midnight—when the shootings that were the basis of the attempted murder charges occurred—Hayes was at the home of Phillip Minor.

The prosecution objected that Hayes’s lawyer had failed to file a notice of his intention to use an alibi defense 10 days prior to the date set for trial, as prescribed by the local court rules. Judge Goldman granted the prosecution motion and barred the witnesses from testifying even though the police had interviewed all of the prospective witnesses months earlier, and by the time the trial actually began more than 10 days had passed from the date the notice of alibi was filed.

The prosecution’s case consisted primarily of the statement given by Hayes and a statement given by Hampton in which he said that Hayes had participated in the beating of Brown with Lee and Minor while Hampton stood by.

Of the four people who were wounded in the drive-by shootings prior to midnight, the three men could not identify Lee, Hampton, Minor or Hayes as being in the car from which the shots were fired. One victim said the shooter had his hair in Jheri curls. None of the defendants had Jheri curls at the time of the crime.

The fourth attempted murder victim, a 12-year-old girl, identified Hayes as being in the front seat of the car and said Hayes had fired the gun that wounded her. She admitted that she had not reported it for several hours and that she had told different versions of how the shooting happened—in one account, she said the driver shot her and that it happened somewhere else.

The girl was shown an array of photographs in court and she picked a photograph that was not Hayes. After further questioning by the prosecutor who showed her a photograph of Hayes, she said that the photograph of Hayes “looked like” the gunman.

Hayes’ lawyer presented evidence that Hayes was tested for gunshot residue immediately after his arrest and the result was negative.

And the defense called Michael Jones, who was 14 at the time of the crimes. Jones, who was in a juvenile detention facility for an unrelated crime, said that he was in a car with Lee and two others, whom he identified as T-Bone and Doc, on the night of August 9, 1985. He said he was the one who was shooting out of the car at various vehicles and pedestrians. He said he and Lee were members of the “Rollin 60’s Crips” street gang. Jones said he had never seen or met Hayes and that Hayes was not a gang member. Jones also said he did not know Hampton or Minor.

Jones testified that after the shootings, he went to a party where he got into an argument with another gang member. Jones said he was shot and was taken to a hospital for treatment of his wound.

Hayes testified in his own defense and said that on the night of August 9, he rode his bike to the home of Phillip Minor and when he didn’t get home until after midnight, his mother was upset and drove him back to Minor’s home to tell Minor’s father that the 14-year-old Hayes was too young to hang out with the 18-year-old Minor. While the parents were talking, Hayes said he and Minor walked to a store to get cigarettes for Minor’s father.

Hayes told the jury that when they returned, Minor’s father was supposed to take him home, but his car wouldn’t start. At that moment, Donald Lee (who had fled after Jones was shot at the party) drove up, accompanied by Hampton. Hayes said Minor’s father told them to take Hayes home. Minor and Hayes got into the car and they left.

However, Hayes said, when he directed Lee to make a turn toward his home, Lee kept on driving and within minutes Brown was abducted and killed.

Hampton, who had an IQ of 49 and the mental age of a seven-year-old, testified that he did not take part in the beating or killing of Brown. However, his testimony was contradictory and at times incoherent and was ridiculed by Judge Goldman as “the Einstein” of the group.

The defense was forbidden from calling any witnesses who would have confirmed Hayes’ account of his whereabouts. Three of the witnesses lived next door to the Minor family and all would have testified that they saw Hayes there until after midnight.

During final arguments, the prosecution told the all-white jury (the only black prospective juror had been rejected by the prosecution during jury selection) that there had been no proof of attempted murder in one of the drive-by shootings, but they should return a verdict instead of aggravated battery.

On December 13, 1985, the jury, after four hours of deliberation, convicted Hampton and Lee of four counts of attempted murder (ignoring the prosecution’s argument) and first-degree murder. Hayes was convicted of four counts of attempted murder and aiding and abetting a murder.

They were each sentenced to life in prison without parole on the murder conviction and 160 years on the attempted murder convictions—to be served consecutively.

In 1998, after his appeals had been rejected, two police officers came forward to support Hayes’ claim of innocence. The officers said that they believed that Hayes—because he remained in the car and told them immediately about the murder of Brown, which had yet to be discovered—was innocent.

One of the officers, Detective Ray Brotherson, wrote that Hayes “assisted in identifying and locating the other three suspects….I testified at the trial as to what I saw and did that morning. Only recently did I learn…Reginald Hayes was not a willing participant in the kidnap, robbery and murder.”

Following the filing of a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate Hayes’ convictions if Hayes would agree to plead guilty to one count of kidnapping. Hayes pled no contest—acknowledging there was evidence of guilt, but not conceding guilt—to the charge and was resentenced to life with parole and then was immediately released.

In December 1999, Hayes requested a pardon. A hearing was held by the Nevada Pardons Board, chaired by then-Governor Kenny Guinn, on December 7, 1999. The board voted unanimously to grant Hayes a pardon and ordered that his record be expunged. In February 2021, Hayes, under the name Reginald Mason, was granted a certificate of innocence. He was awarded $990,000 in compensation from the state of Nevada.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/7/2015
Last Updated: 2/9/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1985
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:14
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No