Playing Hardball

The Feds pitch a shutout in the area's first 'three strikes' case

Hays had shed his coveralls, but was shoeless. Frenzied, he ran to the door and told Walton he was going out to destroy the tracker, and would return for him in two minutes.

But that was the last Walton saw of Hays until the trial. "I got to pacing a while. Mark didn't come back," Walton testified. "I peeked out the door, and more and more police were out there. I ducked down and did like a little frog walk along the balcony. I got down to the ground and I saw a man cleaning the pool. I was going to take off my clothes and jump in. And then I decided it wasn't a good idea."

Minutes later, Dallas police caught up with Walton. He had scaled a fence and was soaked to his chest from a murky canal he had waded through while trying to escape. After telling a long series of lies to interrogating officers, Walton finally implicated Hays--he knew him by one of his 16 aliases, Malcolm Fox--in the Eckerd hold-up. Walton and Hays were both indicted on four counts: conspiracy to commit robbery; aiding and abetting a robbery; using a firearm in the commission of a crime; and traveling interstate with the intention of committing a violent crime.

As Walton wound down his testimony, assistant prosecutor Finn sauntered to the evidence table and picked up a book police found at the Holiday Inn scene. Betrayal, by Khalid Abdullah Tariq Al-Mansour, lays out a thesis showing how African-Americans have been repeatedly betrayed by whites. Trial witnesses said that Hays, a self-proclaimed black Muslim who sometimes used the alias Walli Shabbaz, read the book often. At Hays' trial, though, the book became a favorite prop for the prosecution. Its juicy title rolled off the tongue. The drama packed into that one little word--betrayal--was just too good to pass up.

"Are you familiar with this book?" Finn asked Walton.
"It's a book that I saw Mark reading sometimes," Walton answered.
"Is it fair to say you feel a little betrayed by Mr. Hays, leaving you in that hotel room?" Finn asked.

"Yes."
"Did you think he was going to come back?"
"For a little while I did," Walton said, "but then after a while, I knew I was a goner."

Finn knew that Mills, Hays' attorney, would do his best to discredit Walton's testimony, so he methodically opened every possible door to the witness' shady character before Mills could beat him to it.

"You're no stranger to the criminal-justice system, are you Mr. Walton?" Finn asked, allowing Walton to describe his convictions and jail sentences for bank robbery at age 18, auto theft at 20, and the Eckerd job at 24. Walton also described the gang-inspired tattoo he got when he was 16. It covers his entire back: "INGLEWOOD'S FINEST."

Walton said he had no intention, at first, of ratting on Hays. "I kept thinking about the street code, you know--'Don't talk, don't talk,'" he said. "But then," Walton said softly, "I got to thinking how he left me at the motel. He don't really care about me."

It was some kind of sell job Hays pulled on Walton, who, with his thick speech and pathetically lackadaisical responses, seemed to be either IQ-challenged, fried by drug use, or both. He had only known Hays for a few weeks when he agreed to do the Eckerd job with him.

"He said we would take the money and go to the Freedom Festival in Atlanta," Walton testified, dreamily. "That's when the black colleges all get together every year and just have a big party. There's a whole lot of pretty girls walking around. The dream that Mark sold me was pretty good."

Tom Mills got more than he'd bargained for when the federal magistrate's office appointed him to represent Hays. Mills, 49, has spent the better part of his 23-year legal career defending tonier clients--white-collar guys with money and status who got nailed on bankruptcy fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and the like.

In February, he became the second lawyer assigned to Hays. That's also when Mills learned he'd be squaring off in court against Coggins--and got a hint of the mass of evidence the government would be using against his client.

The day of the Eckerd robbery, after Hays had fled and Walton had been arrested, FBI Special Agent Kevin McCrary and several Dallas police detectives entered Room 303 of the Holiday Inn on Market Center Boulevard. It was like stumbling upon the mother lode. In their mad dash to escape, Hays and Walton had left behind literally bagfuls of evidence: a green duffel stuffed with cash and torn checks made out to Eckerd; the dark coveralls and ski mask; two cellular phones (one of which offered up the most recent call in its memory--to the Oak Cliff home of Hays' girlfriend); a police scanner and a scanner manual with the Dallas Police Department channels highlighted; the book Betrayal; and an album of Hays family pictures and snapshots--including one of Hays sitting on what appeared to be a hotel bed. He is grinning like a lottery winner, puffing on a fat cigar, wearing a baseball hat, and holding a wad of cash. A pile of bills is on the bed beside him, and sticking out from beneath his hat are several hundred-dollar bills.

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