Man gets 50 years for setting landlord on fire

September 8, 2011 3:32:46 PM PDT
The family of a Chicago landlord who died after he was set on fire by a former tenant is disappointed with the killer's 50-year sentence.

Harlan Hayes, 77, was a former Marine who organized block clubs in the Woodlawn community. Last month, former tenant Donald Hardy, 31, plead guilty to Hayes' murder after the judge offered him a 50-year prison sentence.

Hayes' family said they were not notified of the change of plea until it happened. Hayes' niece, Zakryscha Hayes, said the family believes Hardy deserves life in prison or death for the crime.

"This was such a heinous crime. My uncle was 77 years old," Zakryscha Hayes said. "We have been informed after a status hearing that Judge Nicholas Ford said to Donald Hardy, 'If you plead guilty, I will offer you 50 years.'"

Three years ago Harlan Hayes was killed after he was doused with gasoline and set on fire by Hardy, a former tenant in the building Hayes had owned since 1949 in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Hayes had evicted Hardy after receiving a letter from the city informing him Hardy was selling drugs in the building. A week later, Hardy set Hayes on fire.

"Fifteen to twenty other people could have died if my uncle did not have the will and strength to run out of the building," Zakryscha Hayes said.

With burns on over 90-percent of his body, Hayes told police and his family Hardy committed the crime. He died a few days later.

"My children and my grandchildren do not have the opportunity to experience the love and the care and the comfort that my uncle gave to everyone else," Zakryscha said.

Zakryscha Hayes is livid that Hardy could walk out of prison -- with good behavior -- before he turns 77, her uncle's age when he was killed. While she is upset that the family was never informed about the guilty plea until after the fact, no laws were broken.

"The prosecutor represents, quote, the people of Illinois, unquote. The prosecutor does not represent the victim. Just as a matter of practice, they usually talk it over before they make the deal, but there's no law to have to talk it over," Len Cavise, DePaul Law professor, said.

The prosecutor says she had no idea Hardy had plans of pleading guilty until hardy asked for what is legally called a 402 conference during the pre-trial status hearing. Zakyrsha Hayes decided not to attend the status hearing because she said it is too painful to see the defendant, though she did plan on attending the trial.

Hardy will officially be sentenced October 13.

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