URBANA — A 33-year-old Urbana man who went to prison as a teenager for raping a neighbor at knifepoint is headed back to prison.
A Champaign County jury deliberated about four and a half hours Wednesday before convicting Gregory Hayes, 33, of the 1900 block of Washington Street, of a single count of aggravated criminal sexual assault.
Because of Hayes’ prior conviction, he faces an extended term of up to 60 years when sentenced Dec. 13 by Judge Richard Klaus, who revoked Hayes’ bond.
Hayes was the lone witness in his own defense Wednesday, telling the jury that he spotted an 18-year-old woman walking alone about 3 a.m. on April 7 on a dark stretch of Busey Avenue near Springfield in Urbana, and thought he needed to look out for her.
He was on his way to deliver newspapers at that hour and called it “really odd” for a young woman “to be alone and not be on a cell phone.”
He said he drove by her on the street and she did not react to his presence so he decided to park his car, get out and follow behind her about 20 feet.
Hayes said he was wearing sweat pants and a zippered hooded sweat shirt.
“As I got slightly closer, I unzipped my coat because I didn’t want to look like a creep. I wanted to present myself as someone who’s helping,” he said.
The woman, a University of Illinois student, testified that she was walking from a friend’s apartment at Springfield and Busey to her room at Allen Hall, about a mile away, and that she saw a man she identified as Hayes following her. She said she got inside the door to Allen when Hayes followed her in, grabbed her, dragged her outside, knocked her to the ground, and sexually molested her.
She testified he never spoke and she never said anything to him as she walked.
Hayes, however, said he first made a comment to her about the unseasonably warm weather that morning and said she acknowledged it. He said he later suggested to her she should call someone.
Hayes described following the woman to Allen Hall, intending to see her safely home and said as she and he neared the door, he told her to have a good night.
“I turned to walk off and I heard her say, ‘I didn’t need any beefy (racial epithet) following me home,’” he told the jury.
The comment angered him so he followed her inside the dorm and admitted that he pulled her out with the intention of discussing the comment outside.
“I was upset and I overreacted,” he said.
During closing arguments, the jury again saw a two-minute video of security footage inside the hallway that included images of Hayes grabbing the woman around the neck to pull her out the door as she crouched down in an attempt to keep from being dragged out.
The petite, soft-spoken woman was much smaller than Hayes, who described himself as being 5 feet, 11 inches tall and about 200 pounds.
Hayes said the woman tripped over a brick around a flower bed outside and that the two of them fell, with him falling on top of her. He said one of his arms was pinned under his back and he was using his other hand to help himself up.
The woman testified that she was screaming as he was on top of her, using one hand to cover her mouth and putting the other up her skirt to molest her.
When another Allen Hall resident came out after hearing her screams from his fourth-floor room, Hayes rolled off the woman and walked away. Hayes denied ever touching the woman inappropriately.
“I left her there knowing in good faith that he’s going to take care of her,” Hayes said.
Hayes was located at his home within an hour of the attack and questioned by UI police, then arrested. He did not tell police that he was following the woman to see her home safely.
Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Weber called Hayes’ version of what happened an “utter fabrication” not supported by evidence, which included the video, statements of witnesses and bleeding cuts and scrapes to the woman’s knees and feet. That blood was found on Hayes’ sweat pants.
“Does (she) appear to be aggressive, a fighter, a racist or more peaceful, gentle and subdued? The defendant would have you believe she’s the aggressor. Her hands were on the door. She’s desperately trying to stay inside,” Weber argued, reminding the jury of his larger size.
Further, she said two male witnesses and a police officer described the woman after the attack as being in shock and unable to put a sentence together.
Defense attorney Ruth Wyman argued that the woman didn’t immediately tell police everything that happened to her and tried to cast doubt on her credibility by saying she had consumed two drinks with vodka about three to four hours before the encounter.
Wyman argued that her client “overreacted” but did not put his hand anywhere near the woman’s sex organ.
In February 1997, Hayes, then 16, was sentenced 18 years in prison for the same crime for raping at knifepoint a 30-year-old woman who lived on the same street he did in Urbana. Because of the gravity of the charge, Hayes was tried as an adult. He pleaded guilty.