More than 30 years after a woman was murdered in Broward County, prosecutors say new DNA testing implicates a man who was found not guilty in the killing.
Robert Earl Hayes went to trial twice on a first-degree murder charge in the Feb. 20, 1990, killing of Pamela Albertson, a horse groomer at the Pompano Beach race track.
The first trial ended in a conviction and death sentence, but the conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 1995 after an appeals court found some of the original DNA testing in the case unreliable.
At a retrial in 1997, a jury found Hayes not guilty of Albertson's killing.
Hayes is currently serving 15 to 45 years in state prison in New York for manslaughter in the Aug. 14, 1987 murder of Leslie Dickenson, a horse groomer at the Vernon Downs race track.
Dickenson's death was initially ruled a suicide but the case was reinvestigated after the 1990 killing of Albertson.
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Prosecutors said Hayes had worked on the race track circuit, was seen with Albertson just before she died, and had been the person who "discovered" Dickenson’s body.
While on trial in the Dickenson murder in 2004, Hayes pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson, and burglary.
Hayes, now 58, is eligible for parole in 2025 but now Broward County State Attorney Harold Pryor is trying to prevent his release.
According to Pryor, the Innocence Project of New York contacted his office's Conviction Review Unit in late 2020 requesting assistance in reviewing a claim of innocence involving Hayes’ conviction in the New York murder.
Hayes' defense team thought hairs found clutched in Albertson’s hand could assist them in the Dickenson case, Pryor said.
So new DNA testing was conducted on the hairs and DNA evidence found at the scene of Albertson's murder, and the tests showed the hairs likely belonged to the victim, Albertson, Pryor said.
As for the DNA from the murder scene, test results provided "very strong evidence" that they came from Hayes, Pryor said.
"Our Conviction Review Unit is dedicated to seeking the truth and reviewing plausible claims of innocence from people who have exhausted all of their rights to appeal and have nowhere left to turn. We go in with an open mind, no preconceptions, and follow the evidence wherever it goes," Pryor said in a statement. "In this case, the new DNA evidence implicates Robert Earl Hayes in a 1990 homicide that jurors found him not guilty of committing. 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."
The overturning of Hayes' conviction in Albertson's murder has been featured in the media for decades and was even part of a made-for-TV drama called "The Exonerated" about people who'd been on Death Row before being exonerated.
Double jeopardy prohibits Broward prosecutors from re-trying Hayes in Albertson's murder, but Pryor wrote a letter to the parole board in New York outlining the new evidence and asking that Hayes not be released.
Albertson’s surviving family members may have a representative speak to the parole board, and Dickenson’s family would like to address the board, Pryor said.
"One of my biggest regrets is he took her from us and she never got to know both her nieces and her great-nieces and nephews," Donna Dickenson-Helps, Leslie’s sister, said in a statement. "But mostly I still miss her and cry when I think of her."