Roger Dale Hayes' life history, or at least his rap sheet, reads like the plot of a B-movie.
He is a 34-year-old ex-con with an apparent penchant for torching cars. He is known for slipping unnoticed out of jails. He says he can down a few fifths of vodka and still stand. He married a woman who was married to his father before him. That makes his half-sister his stepdaughter.
Some city folk might say, "Only in North Georgia."
Stories like Hayes' do seem to emerge from the recesses of decency, the back of backwoods. But something about the way Hayes explains himself is thoughtful. He is articulate. He is not what you might expect from a man accused of double-murder, a man who is facing a death penalty trial.
"I've had a really hard/rough life, my childhood was a nightmare in itself. Well, you may be wondering, 'Why are you telling me this? Are you guilty? That's what I want to know!' OK we will get to that part, as I say I have nothing to hide," he writes in a 36-page letter addressed to the "citizens of United States of America." He left the pages on his bunk in February, right before he bolted from jail a fourth time. That's when the manhunt began, and "America's Most Wanted" joined the chase. It ended in a hotel on Los Angeles' skid row.
It began in the mountains of North Georgia.
Outside Atlanta, past I-985, there is a point where the soft hills rise into sharper peaks. It's about the same place that convenience stores stop touting cappuccino and ATMs, and start advertising boiled peanuts and live bait. It is the region James Dickey had in mind when he wrote the novel Deliverance.
It is the part of the state Hayes calls home. He does not recall it happily.
Hayes, who goes by Dale, was 9 years old when his father tried to kill his mother. It was May 1976, nighttime. Dale's father, Roger Joseph Hayes, walked into their trailer 15 miles south of a Stephens County town called Toccoa, pointed his .22-caliber revolver at a man named George Hunt and killed him. Then, he fired at and hit his fleeing wife, Fay. She lived.
Four months later, a jury convicted Roger Hayes of the voluntary manslaughter of Hunt, who Roger believed was sleeping with his wife. (Attorneys now say that wasn't the case. Hunt, they say, was there to sell Fay a car.).
A judge sentenced Roger to two years in prison. He was released after 11 months.
Dale recalls that his father spent a year in Florida after he got out of prison, then rekindled his relationship with Fay.
Dale tells police that soon after his parents got back together, he tried to choke his father and that his sister had to pull him off. He was 12. He says he remembers his father throwing hot coffee in his mother's face. He remembers that before he had a driver's license, he drove his drunken father around town, while his mother sat home with a black eye. He claims he was in his early teens when his father started sexually abusing him.
"This went on for quite sometime and I was very scared to say anything," Dale writes more than 20 years later. "I was a child. I couldn't talk to my mom, I was afraid she would suffer a beating, I was only a kid I did not know what to do."
Dale may be making a case for himself, looking for sympathy from the judge who might determine whether he will be executed. If so, he's using powerful images.
"This man was a monster, not a Daddy," Dale writes. "He has beat my mother with a Hunt's 64 oz ketchup bottle, with coke bottles, frying pans, he's stomped her until her lungs collapsed. ... [He] chased me with shotguns, he's chased me with one and has pulled handguns on me a couple of times, he's dragged me with a car."
Back then, at least, Dale didn't want his father dead. He writes that he was horrified at his memory of Roger Hayes holding a shotgun under his own chin, threatening to blow his brains out. Dale feared his father's suicide. He feared someone might murder his father.
"In 1980 my mother started to kill him at the un-employment office here in Toccoa with a 12 gauge shotgun," Dale writes. "I had unloaded my mother's gun several times only to find out that she had another shell. I jumped between him and the gun and saved his life, she blew a hole in the back of his 1971 Ford LTD, she was tired of going through all of the torture and wanted it to be over."
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