A Duluth man who pistol whipped his wife and threatened to kill her and two witnesses to the incident -- and later threatened the assistant St. Louis County attorney who prosecuted him -- was sentenced Thursday to 32½ years in prison.
Steven James Hayes, 26, was found guilty by a St. Louis County jury in December of all 14 crimes he was charged with, including aggravated first-degree witness tampering, possession of a firearm by a felon, second-degree assault, felony domestic assault, felony domestic assault by strangulation, fifth-degree assault and terroristic threats.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Shaun Floerke was about halfway through sentencing Hayes on each of the convictions when the defendant asked to leave the courtroom because he said he couldn't keep his composure. Floerke granted the request. St. Louis County sheriff's deputies escorted Hayes from the courtroom. Hayes turned back and in a threatening manner said something to the effect that he would be back and that he had friends who remained in Duluth.
"He obviously has some issues with women, especially women who try to take his control away," Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Smith, who prosecuted the case, said outside the courtroom after the hearing. Smith said that Hayes had earlier threatened her and that led the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office to have a metal detector at the courtroom door Thursday in the event any of Hayes' friends showed up.
Smith credited the women who testified against Hayes for gaining the convictions.
"It was a challenging case, as many domestics are," Smith said. "There's not overwhelming forensic evidence. Domestic assault matters happen behind closed doors for a reason. The dynamics are to seek control and Mr. Hayes certainly attempted to do that on his mate. The fact of the matter is that (the victim) and the other two witnesses that came forward demonstrated an extreme amount of courage by staying the course and maintaining their rights to stand up to him and testify."
According to the criminal complaint:
Hayes had been married for seven months when he assaulted his wife on Sept. 20. The woman said Hayes grabbed her and choked her before throwing her to the floor. She said he pistol whipped her with a handgun and put the barrel in her mouth telling her he should kill her. The woman didn't know that the handgun was a BB gun.
The two other women who witnessed the incident told Duluth police that Hayes told them that if he got in any trouble from the incident, he would find them all and kill them when he got out of jail, the complaint alleges. The women said that he made everyone sit on a couch and he took their cell phones from them.
Before sentencing Hayes, Floerke told the defendant that the court thought the most compelling part of the case against him was testimony at trial by another woman. That woman testified that she was victimized at gunpoint by Hayes five years earlier in the same way that he victimized his wife.
Floerke told the defendant that was "absolutely spooky."
"Obviously, Judge Floerke was present at trial and he saw the demeanor and testimony of these victims," Smith said. "Ultimately, he felt that this sentence was appropriate. This man has caused too much damage to society for too long. He was on probation for a domestic-related matter at the time that he did this."