Former Innocence and Justice Clinic students return to present defense in Winston-Salem murder case

Photo of Mark Rabil

Wake Forest Law Professor Mark Rabil, director of the law school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic, says this story in the Winston-Salem Journal showcases the clinic’s work and the fact that the outcome is not always as important as the process.

“Jay Kyler (’13) and Kelly Lantz (’13) poured their hearts into the case and returned from Kansas to help present the case,” Rabil said. “Over the years, 18 Innocence and Justice Clinic students worked on the case.”

Rabil added that he thought Matt Breeding (’06), an adjunct professor, handled the case for the State very professionally. The judge is expected to rule on Oct 27.

Following is the story from the Winston-Salem Journal about Wednesday’s hearing:

John Robert Hayes has served 20 years for killing two men outside a drink house in Winston-Salem.

Whether he will serve any more time or be freed is now up to a Forsyth County judge who presided over a hearing that ended Wednesday.

Hayes, 42, alleges in a motion filed by his attorney, Wake Forest Law Professor Mark Rabil, that Forsyth County prosecutors withheld favorable evidence in his case, including 10 witnesses who pointed to other possible shooters, additional shell casings at the scene and inconsistent statements from three eyewitnesses who testified at his trial. He also alleges that his attorney, Warren Sparrow, a retired criminal defense attorney who also served four years as Forsyth County District Attorney, did a poor job of representing him by failing to investigate his case, meeting with Hayes only once right before trial and not vigorously cross-examining the state’s witnesses during trial. Hayes is asking Judge William Z. Wood of Forsyth Superior Court to vacate his conviction and either dismiss the charges or order a new trial. Wood said he would issue his decision during the week of Oct. 27.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Breeding, in a closing argument Wednesday afternoon, said that Rabil had failed to prove that the prosecutor in the case, the late Eric Saunders, suppressed evidence or that the evidence would have significantly affected the outcome of Hayes’ trial. Breeding also argued that Rabil had not proven that Sparrow gave ineffective assistance of counsel and that Rabil was second-guessing Sparrow’s trial strategy two decades after the fact. Rabil is the director of the Innocence and Justice Clinic at Wake Forest Law. The clinic investigated the case.

Hayes was convicted July 19, 1994 on charges that he shot and killed Waddell Lynn Bitting and Stephen Joel Samuels as they were coming out of a drink house at 910 E. 22nd St. that was known as “Deuce-Deuce.” The shootings happened on July 25, 1993. It took a jury 38 minutes to convict Hayes.
Two eyewitnesses – Mary Geter and Anita Jeter – identified Hayes from a photo lineup as the shooter but Rabil and Hayes’ other attorneys, Jay Kyler and Kelly Lantz, argued that Geter and Jeter gave conflicting statements about the shooting, including how many shots were fired and what kind of gun was used.
The murder weapon was never found, but Dr. Patrick Lantz, a Forsyth County medical examiner, testified during Hayes’ 1994 trial that the shell casings found at the crime scene belonged to medium-caliber firearms. Geter and Jeter told Winston-Salem police detectives that Hayes had fired a large-caliber semi-automatic handgun.

Cynthia Coleman, another eyewitness, didn’t identify Hayes but gave a description of the suspect – a black man who stood between 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 8 inches and wore his hair in “plats” or “dreadlocks.” But Hayes, who is black, is 6 feet tall and had short unbraided hair at the time of his arrest, according to the motion.
Prosecutors also did not disclose that there had been a third shooting victim, Kenneth Wade Evans, who was walking down East 22nd Street when he was shot in the left foot and that detectives at the time believed that Evans, Bitting and Samuels were all shot by the same person, Hayes’ attorneys argued. No one was ever charged in Evans’ shooting, and Evans testified Wednesday that he was only interviewed once by police detectives.

Breeding argued that Geter and Jeter picked Hayes out of a photo lineup and identified Hayes in court during the trial. Sparrow, who testified Tuesday that he didn’t remember much about the case, did a vigorous cross-examination of the state’s witnesses, including Coleman, Breeding said.
While there might be some dispute over what Sparrow might have gotten from prosecutors, that’s a far cry from proving that prosecutors suppressed evidence, Breeding argued. He also said that the clinic’s students, which included Kyler and Lantz, could have interviewed Saunders while he was still alive. They interviewed Sparrow in 2011, and the students had ample time to interview Saunders before he died Nov. 6, 2012, Breeding said.

Rabil argued that defense attorneys should have gotten access to all the evidence to ensure a fair trial. “The more the attorneys know, the better they are able to figure it out,” he said

Read the original story here.