Truth and Consequences
Denise Crawford looked at her new client and saw a defendant more desperate than most. After six months in jail, Desmond Haye had been ushered in for trial as a young man without much defense -- or even a defense attorney, for that matter.
State District Judge Jeannine Barr delayed the trial for two days, but Haye's first lawyer never showed up. Exasperated, she wound up appointing Crawford to defend him in June 2003.
A former prosecutor, Crawford anticipated another long story of despair and innocence spun by a street-savvy prisoner. Instead, she was silently impressed. "He had a calm about him -- I know I wouldn't be as calm if I was looking at potential life in prison," she remembers. "He was polite, a well-spoken young man."
To hear Haye tell it, the police just showed up at his Alief home that January and, for no reason, took him in as the gunman in gaudy hip-hop apparel who had robbed a Handy Stop check-cashing outlet five weeks earlier. He had his alibi: Haye and his wife both swore he was taking her to work rather than holding up some convenience store on Fondren.
Houston Texans vs. Arizona Cardinals
TicketsSun., Nov. 19, 12:00pm
Rice Owls Football vs. North Texas
TicketsSat., Nov. 25, 12:00pm
Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers
TicketsSun., Dec. 10, 12:00pm
Houston Texans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
TicketsMon., Dec. 25, 3:30pm
Houston Open - Good Any One Day Grounds
TicketsSun., Apr. 1, 11:59pm
He was anxious to be tried, sure that he could convince a jury that a terrible mistake had been made. But others were also eager for trial. Police and prosecutors were certain that they had this one right. They had a store clerk's ID of the robber, and a surveillance camera had caught the perpetrator on tape.
When trial ultimately was reset for November 17, Crawford told her enthusiastic client that the date was also her birthday. Haye looked at her and smiled.
"Well, Ms. Crawford, I think you're going to have a very happy birthday. Everything is going to work out," Haye said.
"I hope you're right, Desmond," she told him. "I just hope you're right."
As it turned out, things did work out, and then again they didn't. A flawed police investigation kept Desmond Haye in jail for nearly a year for a crime he didn't commit.
The mother of a three-month-old baby and a ten-year-old boy was shot to death in a related convenience store robbery.
And a veteran officer with 20 years on the force also was killed in that robbery, which might not have happened if police had had the right guy in jail instead of Desmond Haye.
Desmond Haye sits erect, hands together, a broad smile dissolving into disbelief as he tells of the naive notions he shared with his wife, Melissa McDaniel. Their parents had used work and sacrifice to achieve modest success; this couple was certain they could do it as well.
Haye, now 26, was two years old when his father and mother came from Jamaica to America with their six children. Mom took a job at a dry cleaner. Dad worked his way up to a managerial post at a prominent Galleria-area hotel.
Melissa and Desmond, students at Willowridge High School, met as neighbors in the Chasewood area of far south Houston. Four years after his graduation in 1996, their daughter, Niya, was born.
By early 2002, their goal had turned to buying their first house, in Alief. It was a difficult lease-purchase arrangement, but they knew they could afford it by struggling early on, as they had for eight months. McDaniel worked as a clerk at JCPenney; Haye was clearing about $1,200 a month by holding down two jobs. He'd always enjoyed math in school, and was applying those skills to doing work for RGIS Inventory Specialists in the evenings. His brother also relied on him during the day for his landscaping service.
As a kid, Desmond had done yard work and cut lawns, then bused tables and handled kitchen duties at places such as Steak and Ale and the Willowisp Country Club in nearby Missouri City. He also had a stint working for a medical group, tallying up weekly insurance receipts that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He admits he'd also screwed up. He says a friend borrowed money from him, telling Haye that he had gotten lucky in scratch-off lottery games and that Haye could redeem the few hundred dollars in winnings.
Haye did. He was arrested for lottery fraud when he tried to cash in his second winner. The tickets had been taken in a burglary, it turned out. "Boy, that was stupid," he says. "Some kind of friend "
The district attorney's office had offered probation, although Haye was still considering a trial. That was his only real dilemma on the morning of January 9, 2003. He and his wife were eating breakfast when the doorbell rang.
Haye looked out at the squad car parked in front.
Are you Desmond Haye? The officer asked.
Will you step outside? Desmond wanted to know what it was about, what he was being accused of doing.
We'll tell you when we get downtown, the officer replied, just before Haye felt the handcuffs on his wrists.
Haye says he felt confident that this misunderstanding could be cleared up as soon as he talked to the authorities. But nobody had any questions -- or much of anything else -- to confront him with.
A judge informed him the next day of the charge: aggravated robbery of the Handy Stop at 5726 Fondren. He was accused of holding up clerk Zahir Ali about six weeks earlier, on December 8, 2002. With that first-degree felony looming, he could forget about bail.
"I was stunned," Haye says. "Absolutely stunned."
In county jail, Haye began his crude efforts to piece together what he could. He had regularly walked to the corner store in Alief for cigarettes; perhaps they would have videotape of him there, instead of committing a robbery miles away. McDaniel checked with the friendly clerk -- those tapes had been erased and reused long ago.
The holdup had taken place on a Sunday morning, though. "Any other day, I might have had trouble knowing if I was working at RGIS or at the landscaping," he says. "But Sunday was my only day off, so I knew I was at home then."
As a one-car family, they realized that on the morning of the robbery, he had loaded up their daughter and driven McDaniel to her job at the Penney's in Meyerland, then taken care of Niya the rest of the day.
His revelations weren't gaining any traction outside the family, however. He says he had trouble dealing with his lawyer, Leroy Simms. "The only thing he'd tell me was 'Well, 'I'm gonna need this much more money, that much more money.' " Simms did relay the prosecution's offer: Plead guilty in exchange for a 20-year term; otherwise they'd seek 40 years in prison on a charge that carried a maximum of life.
Simms says he did need more money, that the $600 he received earlier had been used in defending Desmond in the lottery case. The going rate for a first-degree felony could range up to $20,000. The attorney says he took the case only as a favor to the family. He had explained to Judge Barr that he was unable to appear for trial because of an emergency trip to England to care for his dying sister. The disagreement on fees would eventually lead Haye and McDaniel to file a complaint with the State Bar of Texas.
That complaint was dismissed after a hearing in which Simms said that he hadn't even been compensated adequately for the first case, and that the evidence against Haye on the robbery charge was extensive. With her husband in jail, McDaniel was left trying to tell his side of the dispute.
"That was as close to rock bottom as it got," she says. "After all of this time trying to get information out of him, the lawyer comes in and tells the panel, 'He's still locked up -- that shows you he's guilty.' He even started pounding on the table -- 'he's guilty, he's guilty!'
"To have your own lawyer saying those things, turning against him like that, it was difficult to take," she says. "I didn't know what to think."
His new attorney, Crawford, learned that a robbery detective told E.J. Beasley, the HPD officer investigating the heist, that the holdup photos from the surveillance camera resembled the friend of another man she'd been checking out.
Investigators got the picture of the friend -- Haye -- and it matched up instantly. The store clerk, Ali, studied the standard photo lineup police had prepared for him; pictures of six similar men set in two rows of three pictures each.
It didn't take long for him to point to the mug shot in the No. 2 position, in the center of the top row. It was Haye.
Prosecutors even told Crawford they showed the picture of the robber and the photo spread to others around the office -- six of six identified Haye as the obvious holdup man.
"It wasn't like it didn't resemble him, but there was just something about this photo that didn't look like him," Crawford recalls. "But I thought maybe it was just me. It was just a generic African-American male about that color, maybe with similar nose features."
In photo spreads, police invariably position their suspects in that same prominent No. 2 spot where Haye's mug shot appeared, she explains. There also were ethnic considerations about the positive identification. A store clerk of Middle Eastern descent couldn't be expected to discern the subtle nuances of a black man any more than, say, a typical Anglo could readily notice detailed features of an Asian-American.
She could argue that the description of the suspect was at least three inches shorter than Desmond, who stands six foot three. He also had his alibi of taking his wife to her job, although prosecutors would try to neutralize McDaniel's testimony as that of a spouse naturally covering up for a husband.
Another unusual aspect of the holdup, which netted $6,487, was the striking clothes of the robber. He'd entered the Handy Stop wearing a brilliant gangsta jacket awash in gleaming white, burnt orange and black -- hood up, head low. The front was even emblazoned with the distinctive emblem of the St. Louis-based hip-hop clothing line Vokal. "It was just so distinctive," she says. "It seemed like a mistake for somebody to go robbing in something like that."
At the start of his stay in jail, Haye's employers at the inventory firm assured him they would keep his position open until this "problem" was worked out. His family rallied around him. "My mother was like, 'If you didn't do it, everything will come to light.' "
At even the most routine court settings, McDaniel, their daughter, relatives and friends took time off, dressed up and tried to be there in the courtroom to support him. But nothing, it seemed, could keep time from tearing away at what was left of life on the outside.
After a couple of months, his employers sent word that sorry, they could no longer hold his position. His robbery charge escalated to an indictment.
Soon he and McDaniel's main symbol of independence -- the house -- faded away. McDaniel admits she told the owner that Haye was only away on a family emergency. He was understanding, but without the monthly payments, she and their daughter soon had to pack their belongings and move in with her parents.
Court settings no longer had any credibility. Haye's supportive entourage slowly evaporated. "It was a waste of time -- it was always a reset, then another reset," McDaniel says.
At Haye's high-security cell block, inmates were shipped in and shipped out. He stayed. "You're dealing with different people every day, but they are still the same kind of person, if you know what I mean. All the attitudes and the animosities, they'd still be there," Haye says. Friendly prisoners left for court and returned in manic moods, fueled by guilty verdicts or life prison terms. "They could get to the point where they didn't really care about themselves or you -- they could explode over anything," he remembers.
He ratcheted up his resolve in calls to family and friends. "It was getting so depressing, but I still had to keep that courage up on the phone. You know, 'Don't worry -- everything's gonna be all right.' I knew inside myself I was lying. But I just had to try to keep everybody optimistic."
Haye didn't want his four-year-old daughter to see him like this, to look through a Plexiglas barrier at her father as a jumpsuited inmate. "She kept on asking to come. I didn't want her to know nothing about jail, nothing about that at such a young age."
McDaniel eventually brought Niya to visitation anyway. "She tried to touch me, to reach up with her hand and put it against mine," he says. "But all we could ever touch was the hard glass."
Always infatuated with math, Haye would return to his cell and do the grim calculations. A 40-year sentence would turn his daughter into a middle-aged woman before he was released. "I was just thinking, 'I'm never going to be able to hold her again, never until I'm an old man.' "
And there was McDaniel's future to consider as well. "Just live and enjoy your life," Haye told her when he was on the edge of defeat. "I only ask that you tell our daughter who her daddy is, and let her know I'm in here for something I didn't do. Please let her know that."
The wife who would spend hours waiting for the 15-minute visiting session with him was hardly ready to even hear of it. "Don't talk like that!" she ordered. "Don't you ever talk like that. Everything is going to work out. Somehow we're going to make it through this."
"I knew then what real love and real faith is," he says.
In September 2003, with trial looming a month away, attorney Crawford made a routine decision that would turn the entire tide of the case. She put in a request for $750 for a defense investigator, then called a man at ease on both sides of the justice system.
Crawford wasn't sure what Randy Cunningham might come up with, beyond the interviews with relatives and efforts to contact witnesses. She only knew that if anybody could quickly glean the hard facts from the allegations, he could.
Two decades as an investigator still haven't hardened the jovial approach of Cunningham, a wiry guy with gray hair, an ever-present smile and ready conversations. He carried that with him as a marine in Vietnam and on into the ranks of federal law enforcement. Cunningham served as a deputy U.S. marshal and then spent ten years with what is now the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
As a senior special agent, he handled some of the bureau's most complex cases before becoming a private investigator in 1986. His clients include companies ferreting out theft or fraud, although he supplements that with work for defense attorneys.
He's equally comfortable perusing databases in front of a computer screen and talking the street language of shady players. "You can't be a shithead. You've got to be able to reach people at their level -- whether low or high."
In Haye's case, Cunningham realized police had an 11-month head start on the investigation. "I don't get into a case with an opinion as to what has happened," he says. "I'm trying to find out what the truth is." Too often, he explains, law enforcement focuses on building a case against one suspect, to the point of excluding potential evidence that may point to others. "I know it's possible that the last rock you turn over destroys the whole thing you thought would happen," he explains. "If you aren't open to it, you won't find it."
Cunningham hustled down to review the D.A.'s investigative file. He'd learned that the most important element may be what's missing rather than what's there. He was taken aback when he saw that the file held little more than a few printouts.
"You could see there was no real investigative effort ever made," he told Crawford.
Most surprising was that police had presented their photo spread to the store clerk without first following every viable lead about the robbery and Haye. By having the clerk ID Haye, they'd locked themselves in early -- if another strong suspect emerged, they could hardly return to the clerk and in effect ask him to change his mind.
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever seen 'em do," he says. "Once they had that ID, they never went anywhere else."
Cunningham riveted on another obscure mention in the file: a getaway vehicle, a white 2000 Ford Ranger. Police even had a license plate number. Yet there was no indication that anybody had bothered to follow up.
Had the truck been reported stolen? Prosecutors said they'd get back about that. It was weeks in coming. In the meantime, Cunningham ran a computer check on the license; it was registered to Ricky Pendergrass at an address in North Texas.
Pendergrass's mother answered Cunningham's call. Her son was now on a long-distance trucking run and wouldn't be back for several days. But yes, she remembered that trip he'd made to Houston the previous December. It was disastrous; he'd even returned home all beaten up.
Please, Cunningham told her in a tone of quiet urgency, have him call as soon as he can.
Even now, the smooth and slow Texas drawl of Ricky Pendergrass takes on an excited tone as he talks about some of his Houston experience. When recalling some of the more bizarre twists, he punctuates his story with down-home emphasis such as "I mean it -- I'm as serious as a heart attack about that."
The trip to Houston started with his telling a crane company that, sure, he'd like to head south and make some money for the yule holidays in 2002.
Not long after that Thanksgiving, he checked in to a motel on Almeda in far southwest Houston. It was close to his work site and -- he would soon discover -- in an area teeming with the underbelly of urban life. These people were friendly but operated on the fringe -- for a price, there were street drugs as well as streetwalkers to be had.
Pendergrass would come home from work to an oddly entertaining scene. Especially on weekends, small clusters of locals would hang amid the dark-tinted cars with booming bass stereos circling the lots and streets.
Before long, the regulars had met and casually befriended this outsider. One of the apparent leaders was the man everyone referred to as Ghetto. "He was pretty much quiet, but it seemed like he was trying to control the situation all the time," Pendergrass remembers. The newcomer was in need of some cash until payday, and Ghetto was kind enough to advance him about $40.
On the following Saturday -- December 7, 2003 -- Ghetto had a return favor to ask. He needed to see his girlfriend but didn't have his car; Pendergrass didn't mind lending him his truck for a few hours.
By the following day, however, his truck and Ghetto were still gone. A couple at the motel gave him the cell phone number of Ghetto's girlfriend. Pendergrass reached Ghetto a few times. He told Ghetto he had his $40, but that still didn't get the truck returned. The couple at the motel felt bad for their stranded friend. They told Pendergrass they knew where the truck probably was; he let them know where his extra set of keys was hidden in it. They soon returned with the Ford Ranger, and the now-wary Pendergrass disabled it by disconnecting the battery cables.
Within ten minutes, Ghetto and two associates arrived. "One of them was really intimidating, acting like he had something under his sweatshirt, like a gun," Pendergrass says. "So I didn't try to stop him. I figured it wasn't worth getting killed over." Ghetto and his group quickly popped the hood, connected the cables and roared away. This time, Pendergrass called police and reported it stolen.
Hearing the next day that HPD had been notified, Ghetto revealed the location of the apartment complex on Hillcroft where he'd left the truck. Pendergrass packed up to head back to North Texas and had his supervisor from work drop him off at the truck. While waiting to pawn tools and his jack for travel money, the crane operator says, he couldn't resist one final call to Ghetto to tell him off. He even let him know the name of the pawnshop where he was.
Pendergrass pocketed his cash and pulled into a nearby Wendy's before his trip north. He hardly noticed the heavily tinted sedan behind him until it blocked his truck. Ghetto and two companions jumped out and raced toward him.
"I got beat up a little bit; not as bad as I thought I could have," he says. "I was able to come back home."
On October 23, Pendergrass told Cunningham his hapless tale. The investigator immediately knew its significance. The crane operator had never heard of anybody named Desmond Haye, and the gangsta called Ghetto had control of the truck on the Sunday morning when it became the getaway vehicle in the Handy Stop holdup.
The number to the cell phone used by Ghetto had long since been taken out of service, then transferred to another customer. But Cunningham and Crawford subpoenaed phone service providers to come up with the name and address of the former user: Lakita Hulett. Cunningham used databases to find out that two young men with extensive criminal records had been registered to her address as well.
It was after dark on November 12 when Cunningham, trying to hold back his excitement, parked outside the modest home on Bennington, in one of the poorest neighborhoods just northeast of downtown. As he approached, the night air split with the savage growls and barking of a huge dog, held back by only chains tied to a huge truck tire. Cunningham halted, waiting for the dog's racket to summon the resident inside.
An elderly man peered out the door. With the dog at bay and finally silent, Cunningham exchanged greetings.
"Is Lakita here?"
No, she isn't, explained the man. He was her uncle. She and her friends were no longer welcome, he said. After more polite exchanges, Cunningham asked if he had ever heard of the guy who goes by the street name of Ghetto.
"Yeah, Ghetto. Don't know his first name, 'cause everybody just knows him as Ghetto," the investigator recalls him saying. "His last name is Joe-bert. That's J-O-U-B-E-R-T. I think he might even be in jail now."
Cunningham thanked him and turned his car toward the Harris County Jail. He soon had information on Elijah Dwayne Joubert, a.k.a. Ghetto. When Cunningham later saw the mug shot, he knew he'd seen this inmate before -- in a photograph taken from the Handy Stop security camera during the robbery.
O n a Friday night, just three days before his scheduled November 17 trial for armed robbery, Desmond Haye didn't want to get his hopes up too much. His wife had told him that Crawford and Cunningham had tracked down the owner of the stolen getaway truck.
Right before bed, he heard the footsteps of a jailer. "Pack up your stuff," he was ordered.
"Excuse me, boss," Haye remembers saying. "Am I being transferred or something?"
"You don't know?" The guard sounded incredulous. Someone must have posted his bond, the officer figured. Haye knew there was no bond. But as midnight approached, the guard returned and escorted him out.
"I'm thinking, like, they're gonna call me back and say, 'Oh, excuse me, Mr. Haye, but we made a mistake. Come back here.' I'm just saying to myself, 'Please don't let nothin' happen to me from here.' "
Haye's wife was waiting to take him on a simple 20-minute trip home -- he considered it the ride of his life, after 11 months in jail. "On the way, I was looking at everything like I'd never seen it before," he recalls. "Just the lights were great. Even the air felt different."
That next morning, Haye awoke early, just to watch the sun rise again, "for the first time in forever." Then he went into a room and waited; daughter Niya soon wrestled awake and looked up from her pillow.
"She closed her eyes and rubbed 'em, like she couldn't believe what she was seeing," Haye recalls. "Then she was up out of the bed running to me."
"Daddy! Daddy! I missed you."
"I missed you, too, baby," he said to her, just before he hugged her and told her he loved her.
Crawford and Cunningham are now known by Haye as his "guardian angels," but happy endings are hard to find in a case gone so awry.
Earlier on the Friday before the scheduled trial, Crawford went to prosecutors to alert them to the unexpected turn involving the guy named Ghetto. However, they had their own surprises for the defense attorney.
Subpoenas had been issued for the trial, including one to a police photo lab technician. She was only needed as a perfunctory witness to testify that she had processed the surveillance camera pictures, a necessary step before they could be introduced into evidence.
After getting her notice for the trial, the lab tech had called the district attorney's office. She told prosecutors she had been preparing the photos when she noticed the distinctive Vokal jacket of the robber. She'd just processed police photos of another jailed defendant -- one who was wearing that same unusual clothing. He also resembled the Handy Stop robber.
The inmate, she told them, was known as Ghetto.
Worse yet, the technician had called robbery investigators earlier to report her discovery. Apparently they weren't interested. By all indications, they'd done nothing -- not even called prosecutors to report the new development. The lab tech couldn't understand why Haye was still going to trial on the charge.
That had prompted the prosecutor's office to call with some heated words for the robbery investigator. He was reported to have still argued that he believed he had the right suspect in Haye. When it was pieced together, Assistant District Attorney William Exley did the right thing: Haye's case was dismissed.
"The bottom line is the defense attorney came to me with information; I also had other information," Exley says. "When we put all of it together, we realized there was a problem with this case. I certainly had a serious doubt; I felt he was not the person who committed this crime."
Haye had no more dilemmas over the offer of probation in the lottery case -- he pleaded out to a misdemeanor and got credit for time served.
Robbery investigator Beasley did not return calls from the Houston Press. Even HPD refused comment; a spokeswoman would say only that "it is not in our best interests" to discuss the case.
Prosecutor Exley explains that he is limited in what he can say because of "two pending investigations." One of them is the now-reopened case of the Handy Stop robbery. The other is what he refers to as an internal review by HPD into the earlier investigation of the robbery.
"It is simply unbelievable what police did, to keep an innocent man in jail for nearly 11 months," says Cunningham. "It is remarkable what they didn't do in this case: They didn't follow any of the leads; they relied exclusively on eyewitness testimony that is almost totally unreliable."
The veteran investigator talks with respect about the work police do in quality investigations. And he does no bragging about his own efforts in tracking the man now believed to be the robber. "There was nothing complicated about it," Cunningham says. "They should have had the right guy in a matter of days, if they'd just been diligent in their investigation."
He'd merely "connected the dots" -- the getaway truck, the cell phone calls and Ghetto. Cunningham notes that it could have been much simpler for police, who have significantly more authority and resources than a private investigator.
Attorney Crawford says that, in retrospect, police could easily have traced the robbery back to Ghetto by that January. "They would have had to know Ghetto had something to do with it," she says. "Instead, look what happened."
On April 3, 2003, Houston police received a robbery alert from another small store specializing in check cashing and cashier's checks. As with the Handy Stop nearly four months earlier, this one was occurring at about 9:30 a.m.
This time there would be no quick-and-easy heist, no simple give-me-the-cash-and-get-on-the-floor regimen. Clerk Alfredia Jones was dead from a gunshot wound. HPD patrolman Charles R. Clark, the first officer to show up at the Ace America's Cash Express in the 1700 block of the South Loop, had been killed by another bullet.
Days earlier, Jones -- the mother of two -- had returned to work from maternity leave. Clark, a popular police veteran, died on the eve of his 20-year anniversary with the department. While details of the killings have not been released, news reports say Clark's handgun apparently jammed, making him an easy target for the robbers.
An intense investigation immediately went far beyond anything done in the Handy Stop robbery. Within 48 hours, officers had arrested three young men. Dashon Vadell "Shon" Glaspie, 22, is accused of being the triggerman. Alfred Dewayne "Dooby" Brown, 22, was also charged, along with the suspected leader of the holdup team, a 25-year-old with an extensive police record.
He is Elijah "Ghetto" Joubert. He and the others have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
According to authorities, Joubert had convictions dating back to his juvenile years. As an adult, he'd gotten 30 days in jail for evading arrest, and then had a four-year prison term for assault with a deadly weapon. Only days after the Handy Stop robbery, he'd been charged with a felony for allegedly having prohibited weapons. And that March -- four months after Desmond Haye was jailed -- Joubert was arrested again for narcotics and evading arrest.
He was out on a $30,000 bond when the deadly robbery occurred. That ignited protests from victims' advocates and relatives of the slain officer and clerk. They said he should have had bail denied and been in jail instead of free to allegedly commit the holdup.
Of course, nobody knew then that, had robbery detectives pressed in the Handy Stop case, Ghetto would probably have been jailed as the alleged robber before he could have committed any of his current alleged offenses. As Desmond Haye found out, bond is denied in armed robbery cases.
"By that January , they would have known Ghetto had something to do with that earlier robbery," Crawford says. "What bothers me more than anything is that he would have already been in jail -- that mother of the three-month-old baby and that police officer would likely still be alive today."
Neither Ghetto nor anyone else has been charged in the Handy Stop robbery.
While others debate the consequences of the flawed robbery investigation, Desmond Haye is living them. He struggles to maintain his optimism, noting that last year was the best Thanksgiving ever, coming only days after his release from jail. "I'd never missed one with our family, so I was feeling really blessed to be out at that time."
His fresh start began last January. He'd filled out his application with Brown & Root and got hired on a chemical company project in the Ship Channel area. He was quickly promoted from laborer to insulator because of his work.
Then came the call from supervisors. Brown & Root had known of his situation -- but the chemical company had done the standard background checks. Their officials weren't going to have anybody arrested for armed robbery on their project, regardless of the outcome.
He explained. His bosses explained. It didn't matter. "We told them I wasn't convicted, but if you are just looking at the record, the arrest is still there. It still pops up."
He tried to get work with other employers; the results were much the same. Now Haye is back helping with his brother's landscaping business when there's work to be done.
"You try to save for a rainy day," he says, using that same upbeat outlook that enabled him to survive in jail. "Now the rain is coming."
His wife, Melissa, continues to work for the department store. They still hope to find that first house, to begin to move ahead for themselves and their daughter.
"It has been an experience," Melissa says. "He's out. All of what happened is supposed to be in the past by now. With this hanging over our head, it's hard to start again. It's over -- but it still isn't over. It wasn't supposed to be this way."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.