URBANA — An Urbana man who said he followed a University of Illinois student home to make sure she was safe has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for a sexual attack on her.
Judge Richard Klaus sentenced Gregory Hayes Jr., 33, to the maximum extended term of 60 years for the aggravated criminal sexual assault conviction because of a 1996 conviction he had for the same offense. Under truth-in-sentencing, Hayes will have to serve at least 51 years in prison.
A Champaign County jury in October convicted Hayes, whose last known address was in the 1900 block of Washington Street, after hearing how the 18-year-old woman first spotted Hayes following her as she walked alone about 3 a.m. on April 7 from a friend's apartment at Springfield and Busey avenues in Urbana to Allen Hall, where she lived.
Once she got to the door, she said she hurriedly swiped her security card to get in, only to have Hayes follow her in while the door was still open. Once inside, he grabbed her from behind around the neck. Security video that the jury saw showed Hayes putting the woman in a chokehold and dragging her out the door. Once outside, she said he knocked her to the ground and put a hand up her skirt, sexually molesting her.
Two men heard her screams and came to her aid, seeing Hayes near her on the ground. Both identified Hayes as the man they saw.
Hayes testified in his own defense that he was delivering newspapers at that hour, saw the woman walking alone and followed her at a distance to make sure she got home unharmed. He claimed that once they got to the dormitory door, she turned and said, "I didn't need any beefy (racial epithet) following me home."
The comment angered him and he followed her in to confront her about it, he said. He claimed that after pulling her outside, they tripped on a flower bed, causing him to fall on top of her. He denied any sexual contact.
In imposing the maximum possible sentence, Judge Rich Klaus said he was compelled to comment on the trial testimony. He said he found the victim to be credible and dignified and the two male witnesses to be "credible, selfless and heroic."
Hayes' testimony, he said, was "wholly non-credible."
"Plain and simple, I believe the defendant is a predator and if he is free he will seek out the weak and defenseless and he will attack them," Klaus said.
To increase Hayes' sentence, Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber called Champaign County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Kris Bolt to testify about Hayes' 1996 case.
Bolt, an investigator at the time, testified about the July 6, 1996, rape of a 29-year-old woman who was alone in her home on East California Avenue in Urbana.
The woman was awakened about 6:45 a.m. by someone kneeling beside her bed, touching her leg. The attacker had a shirt over his head and a knife at the woman's throat. Bolt said she pulled the shirt off him but didn't recognize him. She talked him into putting the knife down and then picked it up in an attempt to defend herself. The attacker regained the knife and sexually assaulted her twice.
He then left the home and police had no leads until 11 days later when the woman called back and said she saw the rapist going in a house down the street.
That person turned out to be Hayes, who was linked to the rape by a scar the woman had described on his arm and footwear impressions that matched his shoes. When confronted, he claimed the sex was consensual.
Although a juvenile at the time, Hayes was tried as an adult, pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual assault, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Three years before that, Hayes had been adjudicated as a delinquent minor for aggravated battery that stemmed from a sexual encounter.
In 2007, after serving his sentence for the rape, he was convicted of failure to register as a sex offender and was sent back to prison.
Once out, he married in 2009 and fathered a child, who is now 2.
Arguing for the maximum sentence, Weber reviewed Hayes' criminal history and said his approach in the most recent incident was even "more brazen" than when he climbed in through the woman's kitchen window in 1996.
"No woman is safe as long as he walks the streets," Weber argued. She told Klaus that the 18-year-old attacked in the spring, while not seriously physically harmed, suffers from anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and fear of working closing shifts at work or walking in isolated areas at any time of the day.
In her impact statement, the woman lamented how the attack has also affected her parents and grandmother, who "worry constantly about my safety and emotional well-being. This is not a burden they should have to carry."
Hayes' attorney, Ruth Wyman of Urbana, urged the judge to impose a lesser sentence. She asked him to consider the volunteer work that Hayes had done in the community since his release from prison. She noted that he had counseled young men in the Citizens With Convictions group and the Brother To Brother student organization at Parkland College.
When it was his turn to speak, Hayes apologized to the woman and her family, saying his actions were "uncalled for and I lost my cool."
"It does not reflect the individual I have worked hard to become," he said.
Wyman asked Klaus to file a notice of appeal.