Deionta Lee Hayes was one of four people accused of robbing a taxi driver at knifepoint in 2009. The following year, he shot into a crowd outside a Manchester Street bar.
Hayes has been given several chances to get his act together over the years, including being sentenced to probation rather than prison time in both of those cases, according to court documents. Even when he violated the terms of his probation by testing positive for drugs and threatening a probation officer, judges altered the terms of his probation so he could avoid jail time.
Now, Hayes, 21, is charged with murder in the death of Chaz A. Black, 16. Black — a popular student who had once served as the Blue Devil mascot at a Henry Clay basketball game — was shot to death in an apartment on Palumbo Drive on Sunday. Hayes was serving probation for the two felony convictions at the time of Sunday's shooting.
He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Tuesday. He declined to speak with reporters, a Fayette County Detention Center spokeswoman said.
Despite his history of conflicts involving guns, according to court records, Hayes' friends and family members have written about two dozen letters to judges in Hayes' two previous felony cases, saying he was a troubled young man who "learned his lesson" each time he was arrested and subsequently released on probation.
Some of the letters were signed by more than 100 people.
"Mr. Hayes is a respectable young man with outstanding characteristics, good manners and a very likeable personality, and likes to help and work with younger children," one of the letters said.
Hayes' family declined to speak to reporters at Tuesday's arraignment.
Last year, Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark sentenced Hayes to five years' probation after Hayes pleaded guilty to first-degree wanton endangerment and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Those charges stemmed from an incident in June 2010 in which Hayes "fired several shots into a crowd" outside a bar on Manchester Street, according to police reports in the case file.
Police caught up with Hayes in a car shortly after the shooting and found a gun under the passenger seat. He admitted he fired the gun "because he was in fear for his life," the documents said. He did not tell police who had threatened him.
After Hayes pleaded guilty in February 2011, his attorney, Russ Baldani, filed a motion requesting probation. The motion said Hayes fired a gun into the air to scare off a man who threatened Hayes and chased him into the street.
"Counsel understands that this is not normally the type of situation in which probation would be appropriate," the motion said. "However, since Mr. Hayes pleaded guilty to Class D felonies, probation is certainly a legal option."
Hayes said he feared for his safety because there had been several drive-by shootings at his mother's Breckenridge Street home, where Hayes lived. On four occasions, from Jan. 10, 2009, to Oct. 26, 2010, someone had fired shots into the walls of the house, and in one instance a bullet ended up in a child's bedroom, according to court records.
Clark granted probation to Hayes even though Hayes already was on probation in a previous felony case. He had violated his previous probation at least twice before he was charged with the 2010 crime, according to court documents.
In 2009, Hayes was one of four people charged in the robbery of a taxi driver. Hayes admitted he was in the cab but said he didn't do anything, according to court documents.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery in January 2010, and Judge Pamela Goodwine sentenced him to five years' probation. Among 13 conditions of his probation, Goodwine said, were that Hayes could not violate the law and must submit to random drug tests.
About four months after he was sentenced, Hayes was arrested for violating probation by testing positive for cocaine, marijuana, benzodiazepines and opiates. As he was being arrested, he also allegedly threatened his parole officer and tried to kick out a vehicle's window, according to court records.
Goodwine allowed Hayes to continue on probation but ruled that he had to serve 30 days in jail and complete the Beaumont Behavioral Health Center assessment and anger management treatment.
About seven months later, Hayes was arrested again for violating his probation, this time accused of using cocaine, failing to stay employed, failing to pay restitution and failing to complete mental health and anger treatment.
According to a letter to Hayes' probation officer from Beaumont Behavioral Health, Hayes skipped his court-ordered appointments and "showed minimal insight and no motivation regarding growth/change."
Goodwine again allowed Hayes to continue on probation but ruled he had to be taken to the Fayette County Detention Center until he completed the Hope Center substance-abuse program.
After Hayes pleaded guilty to firing the shots outside the bar in 2011, Goodwine again altered his probation, saying he had to abide by a 9 p.m. curfew.
Throughout the years of court proceedings, family members and friends wrote 23 letters to judges defending Hayes, suggesting he was bipolar, depressed and had suffered from chronic pain from a basketball injury, which led to drug use.
"Deionta isn't a violent person and is not a danger to the community," a letter from family member Crystal Burnett said. "He is a young man that is crying out for help, and I think that if you give him another chance then you will be able to see what a good person he is."
Letters said Hayes was guilty of hanging out with the wrong people. A letter from his mother, Sherylena Burnett, said Hayes got in trouble because of conflicts with "westside boys."
Attempts to reach the judges in Hayes' previous cases were not successful Tuesday.
At Tuesday's hearing, Fayette District Judge Megan Lake Thornton refused to set bond on the murder charge, meaning Hayes could not be released from jail.
Police have said a conflict involving several people led to the shooting in which Black was killed. Two other teens, who had not been identified Tuesday, also were shot and injured in the apartment.
In addition to murder, Hayes was charged with two counts of first-degree assault and one count of first-degree robbery.
He appeared briefly via monitor from the Fayette County jail. He told the judge he did not know whether he would be able to hire an attorney. Baldani said after the hearing that he had not been hired to represent Hayes on the new charge.
Thornton appointed the public defender's office to represent Hayes. He is scheduled to return to court Thursday for a preliminary hearing.
On Tuesday, Chaz Black's mother, India Alcorn, told the Herald-Leader that her son was "just a big social bug" who had "turned himself around" after being sent to an alternative school for a while for behavior problems. She said he was making A's and B's as a sophomore at Henry Clay.
"He was just ready to do whatever was in front of him," she said. "He just overcame a lot."
In addition to his mother, Chaz is survived by his father, Adrian Black; stepfather, Alonzo Alcorn; a brother, Adrian Black Jr.; a sister, Jiya Alcorn; and a stepbrother, Tyus Alcorn.
Visitation will be 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Consolidated Baptist Church. Funeral services will begin at noon. Arrangements were being handled by O.L. Hughes and Sons Mortuary.