DNA testing proves exonerated convict was guilty all along

In 1990 a horse groomer named Pamela Albertson was raped and murdered at Pompano Beach racetrack in Florida. Robert Earl Hayes, who also worked at the track, was arrested and charged with the crime and was convicted and sentence to death in 1991. One of the key elements in the trial was the then relatively new use of DNA evidence to prove Hayes’ guilt.


However that wasn’t the end of the story. In 1997 the results of the 1990 trial were thrown out on the grounds that the DNA evidence was not reliable. Hayes was tried again without the DNA evidence and this time he was exonerated and became a kind of mini-celebrity.

Hayes, now 58, was acquitted at a 1997 retrial in the death of Albertson, 32. The court ruling limited how prosecutors could link DNA evidence to Hayes and experts said tests showed that hairs Albertson was clutching came from an unidentified white person. Hayes is Black. His attorney, Barbara Heyer, pointed to a white track worker as the killer and told jurors that any DNA test linking Hayes to the slaying was flawed.

“They were getting ready to execute an innocent man,” Hayes told reporters immediately after the not guilty verdict. His case was subsequently featured in a 2002 play, “The Exonerated,” which was made into a Court TV movie.

The 2005 made-for-TV movie starred Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover. The role of Robert Earl Hayes was played by an actor named David Brown Jr. Here’s a description of his portion of the film:

Robert Earl Hayes explains how he was accused in 1990 of raping and murdering a white woman whom he had previous dated and was eventually convicted by a mostly white jury, pointing out that, thanks to largely generational double standards, a white male accused of harming a black woman would receive far different treatment. He describes unethical treatment from prison guards, and retaliation when he spoke up for other prisoners, but then adds that a fateful dream convinced him of his chances at a second trial. His lawyer proved that foreign hairs found on the body definitely didn’t belong to Hayes, and he was exonerated in 1997, though he still finds himself unable to “relax” or shed the emotional weight of prison. He notes with irony that his record prevents him from returning to his former job at the racetrack, but as his conviction was technically overturned, he can, in fact, legally buy a gun.


Hayes was exonerated in the murder of Pamela Albertson but a few years later was imprisoned for the killing of another racetrack worker back in 1987. In that case, Hayes pleaded guilty “to manslaughter, arson and burglary” in 2004.

So, just to clarify the timeline here. Hayes was convicted of the 1990 rape and murder of Pamela Albertson and sentenced to death. Then he was exonerated in 1997 and told the story of being an innocent man on death row. Then in 2004 he admitted to having killed another woman in New York back in 1987, i.e.  before the Pamela Albertson case.

And his Innocence Project lawyers were trying to help him get out on parole in that earlier manslaughter case so they asked that the hairs found clutched in Pamela Albertson’s hand at the time of her death be tested using modern DNA techniques. Hayes’ lawyer believed those hairs belonged to the real killer, the unidentified white person mentioned above. But the DNA testing found there was no third party who killed Pamela Albertson. She was clutching her own hair in her hands and the retesting showed the only other DNA on her body belonged to Robert Earl Hayes.

The evidence lay dormant until late 2020, when the Innocence Project of New York requested its retesting to possibly help exonerate Hayes in another case. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in that state in 2004 for the 1987 death of Leslie Dickenson, a woman he worked with at Vernon Downs racetrack – an investigation that was reopened after his Florida charges were brought. He is serving a 15- to 45-year sentence and is up again for parole in 2025, but supporters questioned his guilt in that case…

The retest of the Broward evidence was conducted by a California lab picked by the Innocence Project. It concluded that not only did the DNA found on Albertson’s body come from Hayes but at least some of that hair in her hands was her own. None of it came from the man that Heyer, his attorney, had accused.

“The DNA results from the hair support the theory that the victim’s own hair was clutched in her hand during the fatal attack,” prosecutors wrote.


The NY Times reports it wasn’t just the absence of other evidence that pointed to Hayes. The lab also retested vaginal DNA which matched Hayes. Despite this evidence, there’s no chance Hayes can be tried again because of double jeopardy.

…investigators also retested vaginal DNA collected from Ms. Albertson, and found that it was a match with Mr. Hayes, effectively proving that he was guilty all along, said Harold F. Pryor, the Broward County state attorney in Florida.

Mr. Pryor cannot retry Mr. Hayes, now 58, in the Florida case because the Constitution prohibits people from being retried for substantially the same crime if they were already acquitted. But Mr. Pryor is asking the parole board in New York to keep Mr. Hayes in custody.

“We believe it is just as relevant to speak the truth about what happened in this case,” Mr. Pryor said, “and try to hold Mr. Hayes accountable — to the extent possible — as it is to exonerate those who are innocent.” He added that his office would speak to the parole board in New York “to ensure that Mr. Hayes is not released from prison.”

The Innocence Project of New York, which represented Mr. Hayes, did not comment on Wednesday, saying via email that “Mr. Hayes’s former attorney could not be reached.”

Depending on what happens, Hayes could be released on parole for the 1987 case in three years. Here’s the trailer for the TV movie featuring Hayes’ case.

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