Quest to Free Inmate With DNA Test Made Things Worse

New evidence implicates him in another murder he'd been acquitted of 25 years ago
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2022 5:10 PM CDT
Quest to Free Inmate With DNA Test Made Things Worse
Pamela Albertson.   (Broward County State Attorney's Office)

DNA evidence has increasingly been used to help free persons wrongly convicted of crimes they didn't commit. In a three-decade-old case out of Florida, however, authorities say it did just the opposite and proved that a man acquitted of murder was actually the killer all along. Per the New York Times, Robert Earl Hayes, now 58, is serving time for the 1987 rape and killing of horse groomer Leslie Dickenson at an upstate New York racetrack, for which he received a sentence of 15 to 45 years behind bars and a parole eligibility date of 2025. In 2020, however, his attorneys, in an attempt to prove his innocence, requested new DNA tests involving an entirely different murder—one that Hayes had been acquitted of more than 20 years earlier.

In that case, horse groomer Pamela Albertson had been murdered in 1990 at the racetrack in Pompano Beach, Fla., where she and Hayes both worked. In 1991, Hayes was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the Albertson case, but four years later, Florida's Supreme Court ruled that a nascent DNA test used to help convict him had been iffy and overturned his conviction. In 1997, he was found not guilty at a retrial, and a play, then a TV movie, were even made about his case, per Law & Crime. However, he wasn't off the hook—Albertson's case caused the investigation into the earlier Dickenson case to be reopened, and Hayes was arrested and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in that case in 2004. But there was yet another twist to come, which happened two years ago, when Hayes' lawyers asked to retest hair strands that were found in Albertson's hand.

However, investigators also tested DNA from Albertson's vagina, and it was a match with Hayes. Hayes' lawyer, Barbara Heyer, tells the AP that her client admitted to having sex with Albertson, which is why the vaginal DNA was a match. She also notes that the DNA taken from the hair strands pointed to a white killer; Hayes is Black. Law & Crime notes, however, that some of the hair was found to be from Albertson herself. Although thanks to the Fifth Amendment's double-jeopardy clause Hayes can't be retried for Albertson's death, Broward County's state attorney, Harold Pryor, is now asking the New York parole board to make sure he doesn't get out for the Dickenson murder. "We believe it is just as relevant to speak the truth about what happened in this case and try to hold Mr. Hayes accountable—to the extent possible—as it is to exonerate those who are innocent," Pryor says in a statement. (More murder stories.)

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