Ten years ago, an 18-year-old Davon Hayes told police officers he acted as the lookout in a convenience store robbery that left a man dead. Now 28 years old, he finds himself behind bars serving a life sentence as a result of a confession he says was given under duress.
On Aug. 18, clergy and members of Eastminster Church and Valley View Church, along with Hayes’ friends and family, held a prayer vigil outside of the federal courthouse, where a judge will determine whether Hayes is granted a new trial.
“I feel he deserves a second chance,” said Marqua Geter, Hayes’ sister. “I think he needs a new trial.”
On Oct. 9, 2003, detectives say Hayes admitted to serving as a lookout while two accomplices attempted to rob Bernice’s Café in East Liberty. During the robbery, the store’s owner, William Anderson, pulled a weapon on the robbers and was killed. As a result of his 2003 confession Hayes was convicted of second-degree murder.
“I just want to see a fair trial. I want to get to the truth and I just want to see him come home,” Geter said. “Growing up I was always with my brother and not being able to be with him is hard. When I visited him, I saw my brother cry, telling me he could die in jail, that’s not something I want to see.”
In April, Hayes’ attorney, Mark Rubenstein filled a federal lawsuit calling for a new trial. According to the suit, the public defender who represented Hayes during the original trial failed to interview four alibi witnesses. The four witnesses have allegedly confirmed they were with Hayes at the time of the shooting.
“It is unbelievable that Davon has insisted since the beginning that he is innocent and has alibi witnesses that should be heard, and yet the DA has successfully convinced the courts that he waited too long to make his claim,” said Rev. Chad Collins of Valley View Presbyterian. “I’ve known Davon since he was a boy. His story is unfortunately common. Too many young men get railroaded by the justice system and end up lost. If Davon does not get a new trial he will spend the rest of his life in jail, no chance for parole. We pray that justice prevails and his story gets a fair hearing.”
During his childhood, Hayes participated in the church’s youth programs. Members of the church said despite losing his father at an early age, Hayes was always quick with a smile and protective of those close to him. They say the confession was coerced by police officers because Hayes suffered from mental illness and only wanted to go home at the time of his questioning.
No one else has been convicted or charged in the murder, robbery.
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