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Former college cheerleader found guilty in killings of 3 Florida women after DNA from beer can is linked to murders

Tracing family trees to catch killers
Tracing family trees to catch killers 01:56

A former criminal justice major and college cheerleader was convicted in the killings of three Florida women who were working prostitutes more than 15 years ago. Jurors deliberated more than eight hours before returning the guilty verdict against Robert Hayes, who was linked by DNA evidence to the three victims after another killing in Palm Beach County, where he had been working as a chef until his arrest in 2019.

Detectives testifying at the beginning of the trial told the jury they then put Hayes under surveillance and secretly confiscated a beer can and cigarette butt he discarded and, prosecutors say, the DNA from those items matched the killer's, CBS Miami reported.

Hayes, 39, showed no reaction as the clerk read the jury's verdict Tuesday evening, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty during the sentencing phase beginning next week.

Hayes graduated in 2006  from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The victims were found slain in the city his senior year.

Robert Hayes in an undated courtroom photo. WKMG

The body of Laquetta Gunther, 45, was found in a gap between an auto parts store and a mostly empty utility building around Christmas 2005. Julie Green, 34, was found Jan. 14, 2006, on a dirt road at a construction site. The body of 35-year-old Iwana Patton was found that Feb. 24 along a dirt road. All were nude, lying face down, shot in the head.

Patton was a college graduate who moved to Daytona Beach and worked two jobs, her niece, Annesah Farris, told CBS affiliate WKMG in 2019 after Hayes was arrested.

"Looking at her friends, her acquaintances and the company that she kept, she never would have associated with him," she said.

The deaths caused widespread panic among sex workers in the Daytona Beach area, resulting in some of them working with investigators to memorize license plates and vehicle descriptions.

Hayes also is accused in the killing of Rachel Bey, 32, a prostitute whose body was found, strangled and with her jaw and teeth broken, on March 7, 2016, near Jupiter in Palm Beach County. 

Serial Killings-Florida
Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Fla., speaks during a news conference on Sept. 16, 2019. A jury found Robert Hayes guilty in the deaths of three Florida women more than 15 years ago, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.  Brynn Anderson / AP

It took three more years before investigators said DNA recovered from all four killings led them to arrest Hayes at his home in West Palm Beach.

Years earlier, authorities investigating the Daytona Beach killings questioned Hayes twice, but didn't arrest him, as they looked into everyone in the area who had recently purchased a .40-caliber handgun similar to the one used against the first three victims, the newspaper reported. Police said he bought the gun in 2005, shortly before the first victim was killed.

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