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Courtney Hayden

Other Female Exonerees from Texas
On April 30, 2014, 24-year-old Courtney Hayden called police in Corpus Christi, Texas to report that she had shot 33-year-old Anthony Macias when he broke into her home and tried to rob her.

Macias was found on a bed dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Hayden told police she was acting in self-defense, but police believed that in fact she shot Macias when they fought over the proceeds of a robbery the pair committed a week earlier.

Police said the robbery victim had placed an ad on Craigslist saying he was an older man looking for a younger woman. Hayden, calling herself Tiffany, met him at a restaurant on April 23, 2014. The man told police that after she told him that he had to prove he had the financial means to take care of her, he withdrew $10,000 from his bank and then met her at a motel.

The man said that Hayden stepped outside of the motel room to smoke a cigarette. While she was gone, a man walked in carrying a pistol. Hayden then entered the room, took the man’s money and wallet, and left, taking the man’s vehicle. Police said the man had identified Hayden as the woman involved in the incident.

Hayden was indicted by a Nueces County grand jury in separate indictments charging first-degree murder and aggravated robbery.

In November 2015, she went to trial in Nueces County Criminal District Court on the murder charge. At that time, she pled guilty to the aggravated robbery charge and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors contended that Hayden shot Macias when they quarreled over the division of the proceeds from the robbery. Jurors listened to tape of Hayden’s 911 call the night of the shooting.

“I just shot a guy that came into my home,” Hayden told the dispatcher. “I shot him in the chest with a ... shotgun.”

The dispatcher asked Hayden if she knew the man. Hayden replied, “I have a warrant out for my arrest, and it is for robbery, and this is the guy that robbed the man that I was with, and they thought that we were working together, and we weren’t,” Hayden said.

Hayden said that two others came to the home with Macias and they forced their way inside.

Daniel Rivers testified that there was no break-in. Rivers said he and his girlfriend went to Hayden’s home, where Macias answered the door and invited them inside. The three were sitting at the kitchen table when Macias left the room. About a minute later, Rivers and his girlfriend heard a gunshot. Hayden then yelled at them to leave, so they did.

Firearms examiner Carolyn Martinez testified that based on her analysis, Macias was shot from a distance of about three feet. Medical examiner Dr. Adel Shaker testified that the shotgun was at least three feet away from Macias when he was shot. The prosecution contended that this showed that Hayden was not acting in self-defense.

The prosecution played a tape of a cellphone recording that Macias made while he and Hayden were in bed shortly before the shooting. The recording revealed that both were giggling and talking—evidence the prosecution said showed they were not fighting.

Hayden’s defense attorneys presented evidence that not long after that recording was made, Hayden sent a profanity-laced text to Macias ordering him to leave her townhome. The defense contended that Macias left and returned with two friends, kicked in the door, and stormed upstairs. There, he grabbed a shotgun from a closet and, holding it by the barrel, swung it at her. Hayden grabbed the other end and as they struggled, she pulled the trigger and shot Macias at point blank range.

On November 25, 2015, the jury convicted Hayden of first-degree murder. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

On December 30, 2015, Hayden’s defense filed a motion for a new trial after the prosecution revealed that Shaker, the medical examiner, had initially concluded that Macias was shot at close range. However, after the prosecution told him that a ballistics analyst reported that the gun was about three feet away from Macias, Shaker agreed to change his opinion.

The motion was based on the disclosure by Nueces County assistant district attorney Jenny Dorsey. Dorsey revealed that three days before the trial began, she and her co-prosecutor, Richard Mackay, met with Shaker and informed him of the ballistics report. Dorsey said she asked Shaker to reconsider his opinion, and that he later texted her to say that he “could live with three feet.”

The prosecution agreed that Hayden should be granted a new trial, but Nueces County Judge Nanette Hasette insisted that a hearing be held on the motion. At the hearing, District Attorney Mark Skurka testified that he had discussed with Dorsey whether to disclose the information to the defense prior to Hayden’s trial.

“In our office, sometimes we use each other as sounding boards and we kind of talked it out, but I never tried to convince (Dorsey) one way or the other or ordered her not to reveal it. I just said, ‘This doesn’t sound like it reaches that level that it needed to be revealed,’” Skurka testified.

Dorsey said that in her conversation with Skurka, he gave her examples that led her to believe that Shaker’s changing opinion was a “normal evolution.” However, two weeks after the trial, she met with her direct supervisor—first assistant district attorney Retha Cable—who said that the information should have been disclosed.

On January 31, 2016, Judge Hasette vacated Hayden's murder conviction based on the prosecution’s intentional failure to disclose the change in Shaker’s opinion. The judge also vacated the aggravated robbery conviction.

Judge Hasette found that Dorsey had emailed the original draft of her letter to Cable on December 14, 2015. This draft said that Dorsey sought advice from Skurka and that assistant district attorney Doug Norman, who was in charge of appeals, also attended the meeting; that she followed Skurka’s advice that she did not have to disclose the change in Shaker’s opinion; and that there once existed a text message from Shaker that was no longer available that indicated he had changed his opinion.

However, the judge ruled, the letter that was sent to the defense on December 17 omitted most of those facts.

On May 31, 2017, Judge Hasette concluded that Cable ‘intentionally omitted material and relevant facts” from the letter. The “factually deficient and misleading letter without full disclosure was prepared with the sole purpose of perpetuating a continuing fraud on the defense counsel, the defendant and this Court,” the judge declared.

The prosecution filed a notice of appeal, and repeatedly requested and received permission to delay filing their legal arguments on why the dismissal should be reversed.

However, in January 2018, the prosecution requested that the appeal be dismissed. On January 19, 2018, Hayden pled guilty to the aggravated robbery charge, for which she was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/30/2018
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Sentence:40 years
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No