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Henry Francis HAYS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - "Ku Klus Klan"
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 20, 1981
Date of birth: 1955
Victim profile: Michael Donald (19-year old African-American)
Method of murder: Lynching-style
Location: Mobile County, Alabama, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in Alabama on June 6, 1997
 
 

 
 
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Donald v. United Klans of America

 
composite complaint 8-19-85 final judgment and order 2-12-87
 
 

 
 

Henry Francis Hays (died June 6, 1997) was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1981 lynching-style murder of 19-year old African-American Michael Donald.

Lynch was ordered by KKK leaders, reportedly to to show Klan strength in Alabama. Donald was abducted at random from a Mobile street by two men, then beaten, cut and strangled. His body was strung up in a tree.

Although brief investigation took place and eventually the local police claimed that Donald had been murdered as a result of a disagreement over a drugs deal (Donald was, in fact, not involved with drugs), Federal attorneys, as well as public pressure, led FBI to examine case.

In result Hays and fellow KKK member, James Knowles - people who lynched Donald, were arrested, tried and convicted (Knowles, who appeared as chief prosecution witness, was sentenced to life in prison for violating Donald's civil rights. Hays, tried six months later, received a death sentence).

Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald, in assistance of Southern Poverty Law Centre, sued United Klans of America in a civil suit. All-White jury found the Klan responsible for the lynching of Michael Donald and ordered it to pay 7 million dollars. This resulted the Klan having to hand over all its assets including its national headquarters in Tuscaloosa. Despite earlier KKK leaders plans, Donald murder case ruined Klan in Alabama.

Hays was executed in Alabama electric chair Yellow Mama after Governor Fob James refused to commute his sentence. He was the first white person executed for murder of a black in Alabama since 1913. Hays was 42-year old at time of his electrocution.


Klan Member Put to Death In Race Death

The New York Times

June 6, 1997

A Ku Klux Klansman whose killing of a black teen-ager ultimately bankrupted the KKK faction that incited the crime was executed early today in Alabama's first execution for a white-on-black crime since 1913.

The inmate, Henry Francis Hays, 42, was convicted in the 1981 slaying of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old black man who was abducted at random from a Mobile street by two men, then beaten, cut and strangled. His body was strung up in a tree.

Gov. Fob James Jr. refused to grant clemency to Mr. Hays.

Prosecutors said the slaying was ordered by Klan leaders ''to show Klan strength in Alabama.'' Instead, the slaying wound up financially destroying the United Klans of America in 1987. A jury found the Klan liable in a wrongful-death case brought by Mr. Donald's mother and was ordered to pay $7 million.

The Klan had nowhere near that amount in assets. It had to sign over its Tuscaloosa, Ala., building to Beulah Mae Donald, who sold it for about $52,000 and bought a house. She has since died.

The last time a white person in Alabama was executed for killing a black person was 84 years ago.

Assistant Attorney General Joe Marston 3d said there was no bias involved in the record, just simple math. ''Most murders are black-on-black,'' he said. ''You'd have to do some very deep and difficult research on how many white-on-black crimes you have, and how many fall into capital murder categories.''

On Wednesday, in Huntsville, Tex., a man who shot a convenience store clerk and a gang leader who ordered the killing of a teen-age girl who had been raped, were executed as Texas tied its 1935 record for executions in a single year.

Dorsey Johnson-Bey, 30, who was convicted of killing a grocery store clerk, on March 23, 1986, became the 19th convicted killer to be executed by injection in the state this year. A little more than an hour later, Davis Losada, 32, convicted with three others in the killing of a 15-year-old girl, became the 20th.


Henry Francis Hays

A former Ku Klux Klansman convicted of killing a black teenager had tears in his eyes and words of love for his victim's family before he was executed early this morning in Alabama's electric chair.

Henry Francis Hays, whose case eventually put his Klan faction out of business, was pronounced dead at 12:18 am. It was Alabama's 1st execution for a white-on-black crime since 1913.

Hays, 42, was convcited of the 1981 lynching-style murder of Michael Donald, who was beaten, slashed and strangled with a rope after being abducted at random from a street in Mobile. His body was hanged from a tree.

Seated in the electric chair, a frightened, tearful Hays gave a thumbs up sign to witnesses. He then turned to his brother, Ray, and Donald's brother, Stanley, and mouthed, "I love you."

Donald later called Hays a "nut", and said the execution brought no satisfaction, adding that "what I just witnessed was a sad sight to see a young man let his life go like that."

Prosecutors said the killing was ordered by Klan leaders, including Hays' father, "to show Klan strength in Alabama" after a jury deadlocked in the trial of a black man charged with killing a white policeman in Birmingham.

James "Tiger" Knowles testified that he and Hays picked Donald at random on the night of March 20, 1981. He described the beating and hanging and was sentenced to life in prison for his testimony. Knowles acknowledged that they were cruising the poor neighborhoods of Mobile when they grabbed Donald off the street, forced him into the car, beat him with tree branches, cut his throat and strung hp his body in a tree by the curb.

Hays maintained his innocence, saying Knowles had framed him.

Hays' father, Bennie Jack Hays, was charged in the slaying but died before his trial.


Henry Francis Hays

By Frances Colemen - Mobile Register

June 1, 1997

June 6 will be a sad day for Alabamians, whether their skins are white, black or brown. On that day -- the previous night, really, at 12:01 a.m. -- the state of Alabama will electrocute Henry Francis Hays for beating a black man to death 16 years ago, and then hanging his body from a tree.

The execution will rip the scab from the old, deep, nasty wound of racism, which in the 20th-century South alternately heals and festers. It will fester again this week as residents of the Heart of Dixie re-live the brutal death of 19-year-old Michael Donald.

It is a story of contrasts: The murderer, a white man, grew up in a home filled with hate and violence. The victim was reared by a loving mother and doting older siblings.

Henry Hays knew what he was about that night, when he and a friend set out to kill a black man. Michael Donald, on the other hand, was innocently walking up the street on a spring evening in Mobile to buy some cigarettes, when fate delivered him into the white men's hands.

Most vivid, though, is the contrast between fiction and reality. Michael Donald was murdered - beaten to death with a tree limb - not in the 1930s or '40s, even in the 1960s, but in 1981. Such things weren't supposed to happen almost 30 years after the Supreme Court declared "separate but equal'' unconstitutional, and nearly 20 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Nor were they supposed to happen in Mobile, which in the 1960s had somehow managed to avoid the racial violence that erupted in Selma and Birmingham.

Black men kidnapped and beaten, their bodies strung up in a tree? That was something that happened on the dark back roads of Dallas County or over in the Mississippi Delta, not in Alabama's second-largest city.

But hate crimes aren't constrained by time, place or suppositions. The reality is that Michael Donald died just 16 years ago at the hands of two Ku Klux Klansmen. So what if his death came years after lynchings were supposed to have ceased, and in a place not known for such things?

Barely out of childhood, he was a tragic, latter-day victim of a time when it was safer to be white - when to be a black girl or woman was to invite sexual violence, and to be a black boy or man was to evoke daily disrespect, laced always with the potential for a fatal confrontation.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Henry Hays will pay for ending Michael Donald's life that day in 1981. He claims that he is innocent - death row residents generally say that - but the evidence shows otherwise. Yet Hays is also a victim, albeit in a much different way than Donald.

Reared by an abusive father who beat his sons mercilessly, he was steered into a life of brutality and hate - a life that one day included membership in the KKK. Hays learned little about love and less about tolerance.

Death penalty advocates tout execution as a deterrent to crime, and maybe it is in some respects. Henry Hays' death, though, will serve mostly as a sad commentary on a society that in 1997 - less than three years from the turn of the century - is having to electrocute a man for murdering another man, solely because of the color of his skin.


Ex-Klansman executed in Alabama for 1981 slaying of black teen

Findarticles.com

June 23, 1997

The execution of a former Ku Klux Klansman in Alabama for the 1981 brutal murder of a Black teen marked the first time a White has been executed for killing a Black in the state in 84 years.

Henry Francis Hays, 42, received a death sentence for the lynching-style murder of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old who was beaten, slashed and strangled with a rope after he was abducted at random from a street in Mobile. His body was strung up in a tree by the curb.

Before dying, a frightened Hays said "I love you" to his brother, Ray, and the victim's brother, Stanley, who later called Hays "a nut" and said the execution brought him no satisfaction.

Prosecutors said the killing was ordered by Klan leaders, including Hays' father, "to show Klan strength in Alabama' after a jury. deadlocked in the trial of a Black man charged with killing a White policeman.

James "Tiger" Knowles testified that he and Hays picked Donald up at random on the night of March 20, 1981. He described the beating and killing and was sentenced to life in prison for his testimony.

Hays' father, Bennie Jack Hays, was charged in the murder but died before his trial.

Hays maintained his innocence until days before his death when he confessed to Rev. Bob Smith, president of Mobile's NAACP.

Smith, who witnessed the execution, mentioned the confession at Hays' funeral.

After encouraging the death row inmate to "take a bath in confession," Smith said a tearful Hays gave a 40-minute detailed account of Donald's abduction, beating and strangulation.

The case financially destroyed the Klan.

The Klan faction was hit with a $7 million wrongful-death verdict brought by Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald.

Because it had nowhere near $7 million in assets, the 10an faction filed for bankruptcy and deeded its property near Tuscaloosa to Mrs. Donald. She sold the building for about $52,000 and bought a home. She died a year and a half later at age 67.


Michael Donald was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1962. He attending a local trade school and worked part-time at the Mobile Press Register.

In 1981 the trial of Josephus Andersonan, an African American charged with the murder of a white policeman, took place in Mobile. At the end of the case the jury was unable to reach a verdict. This upset members of the Ku Klux Klan who believed that the reason for this was that some members of the jury were African Americans. At a meeting held after the trial, Bennie Hays, the second-highest ranking official in the Klan in Alabama said: "If a black man can get away with killing a white man, we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man."

On Saturday 21st March, 1981, Bennie Hays's son, Henry Hays, and James Knowles, decided they would get revenge for the failure of the courts to convict the man for killing a policeman. They travelled around Mobile in their car until they found nineteen year old Donald walking home. After forcing him into the car Donald was taken into the next county where he was lynched.

A brief investigation took place and eventually the local police claimed that Donald had been murdered as a result of a disagreement over a drugs deal. Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald, who knew that her son was not involved with drugs, was determined to obtain justice. She contacted Jessie Jackson who came to Mobile and led a protest march about the failed police investigation.

Thomas Figures, the assistant United States attorney in Mobile, managed to persuade the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into the case. James Bodman was sent to Mobile and it did not take him long to persuade James Knowles to confess to the killing of Michael Donald.

In June 1983, Knowles was found guilty of violating Donald's civil rights and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Six months later, when Henry Hays was tried for murder, Knowles appeared as chief prosecution witness. Hays was found guilty and sentenced to death.

With the support of Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin at the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), Beulah Mae Donald decided that she would use this case to try and destroy the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. Her civil suit against the United Klans of America took place in February 1987. The all-white jury found the Klan responsible for the lynching of Michael Donald and ordered it to pay 7 million dollars. This resulted the Klan having to hand over all its assets including its national headquarters in Tuscaloosa.

After a long-drawn out legal struggle, Henry Hayes was executed on 6th June, 1997. It was the first time a white man had been executed for a crime against an African American since 1913.

Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk


Michael Donald (July 24, 1962 – March 20, 1981) was picked at random as the victim of a lynching by two Ku Klux Klan members in Mobile, Alabama in 1981.

Lynching

According to a contemporary source, "In 1981, the trial of Josephus Andersonan, an African American charged with the murder of a white policeman, took place in Mobile. At the end of the case the jury was unable to reach a verdict. This upset members of the Ku Klux Klan who believed that the reason for the lack of decision was that some members of the jury were African Americans. At a meeting held after the trial, Bennie Hays, the second-highest ranking official in the Klan in Alabama said: "If a black man can get away with killing a white man, we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man."

The same night other Klan members burnt a three-foot cross on the Mobile County courthouse lawn, Bennie Hays' son, Henry Hays (age 26), and James Knowles (age 17) drove around Mobile looking for a victim. They spotted Michael Donald walking home from getting his sister a pack of cigarettes. They attacked him and beat him with a tree limb before slitting his throat and hanging him from a tree across the street from his house.

Local police first stated that Donald had been killed as part of a drug deal gone wrong, despite his mother's insistence that he had not been involved in drugs. Beulah Mae Donald then contacted Jesse Jackson, who organized a protest march in the city and demanded police answers.

The FBI became involved, partly at the urging of Michael and Thomas Figures, local activists. Two and a half years later, Henry Hays and James Knowles were arrested. Bennie Hays was also indicted in Donald's murder but died before his trial began.

Henry Hays was convicted and was executed in the electric chair on June 6, 1997. The Associated Press reported that Hays was Alabama's first execution for a white-on-black crime since 1913. James Knowles is serving a life sentence. He avoided the death penalty by testifying against Hays at trial. The elder Hays was tried some years later but the first case ended in a mistrial. Hays died of a heart attack before he could be retried.

Henry Hays maintained his innocence right up until a few days before he died. However, he confessed to Rev. Bob Smith, who was the president of Mobile's NAACP.

The Associated Press reported that the slaying was ordered by Klan leaders, including Hays' father, "to show Klan strength in Alabama."

Aftermath

Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, brought a wrongful death suit on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald. The Klan was hit with a $7 million wrongful-death verdict in the case. The settlement bankrupted the United Klans of America. The Donald family was given the deed to the UKA meeting hall in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Beulah Mae Donald used the settlement to buy her first home. She died in 1987.

The incident served as a springboard for other legal cases against racist groups across America.

In 2006, Mobile renamed Herndon Avenue as Michael Donald Avenue. Mobile's first black mayor, Sam Jones, presided over the small gathering of Michael Donald's family and local leaders at the commemoration.

Michael Donald’s story was turned into a novel by Ravi Howard called Like Trees Walking in 2007. The true story of Michael Donald is told with fictional characters and fictional dialogue. Ravi Howard tells the story through two young boys named Roy and Paul Deacon that live with their family in Mobile, Al. The young boy’s family owns a funeral home that has been in their family for six generations. Roy feels the pressure to take over the family funeral business because his older brother Paul decides to pursue a different career. In the novel the town is hit hard by the hanging and the brutal beating of Michael Donald. Mr. Deacon and Roy were asked by the Donald family in the novel to prepare the body for the open casket funeral. Because of the nature of the funeral business and the death of Michael, it pushed Roy to constantly ponder the idea of afterlife and what faith means to him. The novel depicts the aftermath pain and struggle of the small town Mobile.

Wikipedia.org


Donald v. United Klans of America

Michael Donald Lynching Case

Case Number: 84-0725
Court where filed: USDC Southern District of Alabama
Date filed: 06/14/1984
Status: Won

Plaintiffs: Beulah Mae Donald, mother of Michael Donald, a black teenager lynched by Klan members

Defendants: United Klans of America, Inc., Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Bennie Jack Hays and other members of the United and other Klan groups

Co-Counsel: Michael Figures

Date(s) of Disposition:
08/19/1985: Case amended
02/12/1987: Verdict for the plaintiff

Complaint : Composite complaint 8-19-85

Judgment : Final judgment and order 2-12-87

Shutting down the notorious United Klans

Nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was on his way to the store in 1981 when two members of the United Klans of America abducted him, beat him, cut his throat and hung his body from a tree on a residential street in Mobile, Ala.

Angry that an interracial jury had failed to convict another black man for killing a white police officer in Birmingham, the Klansmen selected Michael Donald at random and lynched him to intimidate and threaten other blacks. On the same evening, other Klan members burned a cross on the Mobile County courthouse lawn.

The two Klansmen who carried out the ritualistic killing were eventually arrested and convicted. Convinced that the Klan itself should be held responsible for the lynching, Center attorneys filed a civil suit on behalf of Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald vs. United Klans. In 1987, the Center won an historic $7 million verdict against the men involved in the lynching.

The verdict marked the end of the United Klans, the same group that had beaten the Freedom Riders in 1961, murdered civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in 1965, and bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.

The group was forced to turn over its headquarters to Beulah Mae Donald, and two additional Klansmen were convicted of criminal charges.


U.S. JURORS AWARD $7 MILLION DAMAGES IN SLAYING BY KLAN

The New York Times

February 13, 1987

A Federal jury today awarded $7 million in damages against the United Klans of America and six past and present Klansmen in the 1981 slaying of a black man whose body was left hanging in a tree.

The verdict by the all-white jury was awarded in a suit brought by the family of the victim, Michael Donald, 19 years old, and the Alabama branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mr. Donald was beaten and strangled in Mobile in April 1981 and then hanged. 'It Won't Bring My Child Back'

His mother, Beulah Mae Donald, said at a news conference: ''I'm glad justice was done. Money don't mean a thing to me. It won't bring my child back. But I'm glad they caught the guilty and brought them to court because I did everything I could to help.''

Federal District Judge Alex Howard said he would hold a hearing within 90 days to determine the Klan's assets and what action was needed to turn them over to the Donald family and N.A.A.C.P. in Alabama.

John Mays, the attorney who represented the Klan, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

Morris Dees, an attorney for the Donald family and founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the verdict was expected to give the family title to the United Klans' 7,000-square-foot national headquarters in Tuscaloosa.

The United Klans has about 2,500 members in the Southeast.

Michael Figures, a State Senator who is also an attorney for the Donald family, called the verdict a ''landmark ruling that will make sure Donald's death was the last Klan lynching.''

Robert Shelton, a Klan Imperial Wizard, who had sat with the defendants in court although he was not sued, left the courtroom immediately after the verdict, refusing to comment.

Bill Stanton, director of Klanwatch, an anti-Klan group associated with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, said his organization was ''extremely pleased'' for the Donald family.

''We believe the death of their relative will not be in vain as a result of this case,'' Mr. Stanton said. ''Victims of Klan violence now have a precedent to seek damages from the corporate Klan behind the perpetrators of these kinds of violent acts.'' 'Return Judgment Against Me'

Before the jury began deliberating today in the four-day trial, a Ku Klux Klansman convicted in the killing of Mr. Donald pleaded with the jury to decide in favor of the victim's family.

''Return a judgment against me and everything else,'' said James Knowles, 24, who was a defendant in the suit.

Then, turning to the mother of the victim, Mr. Knowles, in tears, apologized before the courtroom filled with about 100 spectators.

''God knows, if I could trade places with him, I would,'' said Mr. Knowles, who had conducted his own case and was allowed to make a closing statement.

Mr. Knowles was sentenced to life in prison in the killing. Another Klansman, Henry Francis Hays, 32, was sentenced to death in the case. Mr. Knowles testified against Mr. Hays at the murder trial.

In the trial of the Donald family's suit, Mr. Hays's father, Bennie Jack Hays, a local Klan officer who was a defendant, said witnesses who accused him of having prior knowledge of plans to kill a black person were liars.

The other defendants, who also conducted their own defense and denied involvement in a conspiracy to murder Mr. Donald, were Henry Francis Hays; Frank Cox, the son-in-law of Bennie Jack Hays; William O'Connor, and Thaddeus Betancourt.

The Klan presented no witnesses. Mr. Shelton said the Klan did not call witnesses to avoid a debate with Mr. Dees.

Mr. Mays, the Klan's attorney, said in his closing argument that the murder was a ''gross and horrible atrocity,'' but he said the jury should not hold the organization responsible. Charge Against One Dismissed

The judge dismissed the charge against one defendant, Teddy Kysar, at the end of testimony Wednesday at the plaintiff's request. Mr. Kysar is a former Klan member who cooperated with the authorities in the investigation that led to Mr. Hays's conviction.

Mr. Knowles testified that Mr. Donald was abducted at random and slain to show Klan strength in Alabama and intimidate blacks from serving on juries.

Earlier today, Mr. Dees compared Mr. Donald to martyrs of the civil rights movement, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ''They sacrificed a human being to get some publicity for the Klan,'' Mr. Dees said. ''He'll go down in civil rights history in the fight for black rights. I hope your verdict goes down in history right beside him.''

 

 

 
 
 
 
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