After allegedly attacking his wife with a hammer after a night out, Dallas venture capitalist Stephen Hays will have to work through a host of legal issues that could land him in prison for 20 years, suspend his business licenses or at a minimum require some jail time, according to one attorney not related to the case.
That's because Hays, who represented Deep Space Ventures’ transactions, is already facing deferred charges and jail time and was on probation for a previous incident that occurred during a ski trip in Vail, Colorado. There, he pleaded guilty to charges of criminal attempt to commit assault and criminal attempt to commit criminal extortion, a misdemeanor and felony, respectively. That incident came with a four-year probation term and a 90-day deferred jail sentence. With the latest incident, he's added the charge of a second-degree felony for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. If convicted, he could serve two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine plus additional consequences in Colorado.
“He's got significant problems right now,” said Doug Richards, partner at Denver- and Los Angeles-based Richards Carrington, who has served as both a criminal prosecutor and defense attorney in Texas and Colorado. The chances that he won't end up with a felony record or jail time is “extremely unlikely on the felonies and has zero possibility on the jail time.”
"The worst thing you could do is pick up another felony for a similar crime," Richards said, referring to the aggravated assault charge. "That's literally the worst thing you can ever do."
Hays allegedly attacked Christine Hays at around 4 a.m. Aug. 5 at the couple's Frisco home, according to an affidavit from the Frisco Police Department. Christine said she and her husband had attended a concert at the American Airlines Center on Aug. 4, the document states. There, she asked Stephen to dance with her, but he declined and got upset. She took an Uber home and went to bed. She awoke to Stephen entering the bedroom yelling with a hammer in his hand. When she sat up in bed, she put her head toward her lap and she “was struck in the back of her head by what she believed was the hammer,” according to the affidavit. Stephen then began destroying things and throwing items at her, including a picture frame that lacerated the skin above her left eye, the affidavit reads.
After Stephen told her to leave the house, Christine drove to her sister-in-law's home before being taken to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Frisco. She received stitches for the laceration above her eye and staples for the back of her head. A Frisco police officer also said her hair and scalp were soaked with blood, and her car had blood stains on the front passenger and driver seats. When officers searched the residence, they discovered the master bedroom's door had been broken off, property inside the house had been damaged and the hammer allegedly used in the assault still in the wall above the headboard, the affidavit states.
Christine said Stephen contacted her during treatment at the hospital, telling her she would never see him again and that he was leaving for California. She checked their credit and debit cards and found charges for a hotel in Ranger, Texas, according to the affidavit.
Hays was arrested at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 by Ranger police and taken to Eastland County Sheriffs Office Jail on a $50,000 bond, according to the arrest report. The report also said Hays was released on bond.
Christine and Stephen Hays have been married for about nine years. There has been only one disturbance call in the last five years at the Hays household in Frisco, according to the Frisco Police Department. In December 2015, Stephen Hays got into an argument with an Uber driver over payment for the ride. The issue was settled without incident. The alleged attack also appears to be the first time Frisco authorities have been called to handle an incident between the couple within the last 10 years, department records show.
When it comes to the alleged attack, there are a number of ways the incident could play out in court, Richards said. Hays might have to work through his criminal case in Texas before the Eagle County District Court in Colorado determines whether this was a violation of his probation. Alternatively, a Colorado judge could be aggressive enough to call Hays back to Colorado and make a judgment regardless of the Texas ruling. Either way, prosecutors in Eagle County are no joke, said Richards.
“If this lands on the chief prosecutor's desk, I could see this being a major problem,” he said. “The chief prosecutor in Eagle County is a tough guy.”
Richards expects what is likely to happen is that Eagle County will await whatever happens in Texas. And hammer cases are not as black and white as one might expect, said Richards, who has tried several. Prosecutors will be tasked with providing forensic evidence to prove the hammer was the weapon used to assault Christine Hays, that her injuries are consistent with the weapon and that Stephen Hays was the one who assaulted her.
If Hays is convicted of the second-degree felony, the prosecutor in Colorado could then do one of two things: “I could see him saying, 'Congrats, you closed out your case in Texas, now come deal with me,'” Richards said. “I could also see him saying the guy has gotten enough. Let's just close it out.”
However, if Hays is not convicted, it will be up to the Eagle County District Court to determine if any other terms of Hays' probation were violated — considering things like if drugs or alcohol were at play. Violations could revoke all deferments, resulting in a misdemeanor and felony charge as well as jail time stemming from the incident in Vail.
Deep Space Ventures entered the Dallas startup community in March 2016, with Stephen Hays serving as the face of the firm. It has since invested in Dallas startups including Vinli, Panamplify, Selery Fulfillment, CounterFind, Tech EdVentures, PediaQ, OpTic Gaming and Infinite Esports & Entertainment, according to the firm's website.
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Members of the Dallas startup community, including some of his portfolio companies, the law firm that represents his business transactions and some advocates of the community, have declined to comment on what this means for Dallas' startups and Deep Space Ventures' investments. Stephen Hays also has not yet responded to a request for comment.
The future of Deep Space Ventures is on the line, and so are Hays' licenses to continue serving as an investor, Richards said: “If what happened in Texas is true, and he ends up facing penalties for that in Texas and therefore in Colorado, it's safe to say the future of that business is going to look a lot different.”
Joshua Baer, who recently brought Austin-based accelerator Capital Factory to Dallas and has been hosting several local startup events, said the arrest could reflect poorly on Dallas' entire startup community.
"Anytime there is a negative incident involving high-profile members of the community, it can reflect poorly on everyone," he said. "The startup community is already working to overcome a frat-boy culture perception, and this won’t help. Hopefully this will be the last incident like this for Stephen and for the Dallas startup community."