‘A slap on the wrist’: No prison time for man accused of raping at least 2 women

After at least two women accused the same man of raping them on the same night in the same house in Dorchester County, they say he got a slap on the wrist.
Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 7:00 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2023 at 8:02 PM EDT
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - After multiple women, all active duty Air Force members, accused the same man of raping them on the same night in the same house in Dorchester County, they say he received a slap on the wrist.

Though the victims went through all the proper steps with law enforcement and prosecutors, court documents show this case points to a larger issue in the judicial system where rapists are let off easy and victims continue to suffer long after the case is closed.

The fateful night began with Kelly Walker’s pre-deployment party on April 14, 2019. It was supposed to be an evening of celebration before she deployed to Afghanistan with the Air Force.

“We were doing karaoke,” she says. “We were drinking.”

At the party was Thaddeus Hayes, a man Walker’s roommate met on a dating app.

“[They were] over playing pool in the corner, and I maybe talk[ed] to him for two or three minutes off and on,” Walker said.

She says the night turned from celebratory to shocking after Walker, her roommate and her friend returned to her home in North Charleston. Hayes joined them.

“You hear about this happening all the time, and I think that everybody thinks that it won’t ever happen to you,” Walker says.

Hayes took Walker’s roommate—inebriated and incapacitated—upstairs, Walker says, while she and her friend stayed downstairs. When Hayes returned, the three hung out, drinking and talking, Walker says.

“Then I went upstairs and I went to sleep,” she says.

At some point in the night, court documents allege Hayes raped Walker’s friend, who was sleeping on the couch. A police report details the assault and what Hayes said during it, both too graphic to share.

Court documents state Hayes then went upstairs where Walker says she woke up as he was raping her.

“I’m face down and he’s holding me down and he’s just saying, ‘You like this’ and things like that,” Walker says. “I froze. I couldn’t do anything. I just laid there and cried, and he just kept going and when it stopped, I just screamed for him to get out of my house.”

Walker, her roommate and her friend called police and went to the hospital for rape kits to be administered. Court documents show a rape kit was not performed on Walker’s roommate because she had no memory of what happened at the house that night. Records show prosecutors still viewed her as a victim, as she says she was missing clothing when she woke up.

The damage from the rape was immediate for Walker.

“I felt a lot of guilt and shame,” she says. “I was catatonic. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I was mortified to be alone with my own naked body, so bathing and changing were really hard for me.”

Eight days after the rapes, Hayes was arrested and charged. Ten days after the rapes, Walker was deployed to Afghanistan.

“When you’re deployed, your whole life changes and I think that’s what I needed at that moment,” Walker says.

Walker spent seven months overseas as the justice system marched on until December of 2022, more than 3.5 years after the rapes, when Hayes pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal sexual conduct.

He was facing up to 20 years in prison, but when Judge Heath Taylor slammed his gavel, the decision was finalized that Hayes would be spending no time behind bars. He was sentenced to probation and a year of home detention and was required to register as a sex offender. The sentence, in Walker’s eyes, was nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

“We did everything that we thought we were supposed to do, and we were failed,” she says.

Walker’s case isn’t the only one in which a defendant accused of criminal sexual conduct didn’t get prison time.

“I think that there are just systemic issues that continue to build upon each other,” Sarah Ford, the victims’ attorney, says. “We have results like this that are just, I don’t want to use the word ‘unfortunate’ because it’s not just unfortunate, it’s devastating to victims and, quite frankly, society.”

A look at pages of court records for criminal sexual conduct cases in South Carolina shows only a small percentage go to trial while a vast majority are dismissed at some point in the judicial process.

In the last decade in Dorchester County, court records show about 2 percent of closed criminal sexual conduct cases, whether first, second or third-degree, went to trial. About 73 percent of the cases were dismissed.

Across the county line in Berkeley County, in the last 10 years, court documents show 2 percent went to trial and 71 percent were dismissed.

In Charleston County, in that same time period, court records about 8 percent of closed criminal sexual conduct cases went to trial and about 61 percent were dismissed.

But even in a case like Walker’s in which the defendant pleads guilty and even when the victims get rape kits and cooperate with police and prosecutors, Ford says the outcome can be disappointing.

“You rarely have corroboration like you had in this one,” she says. “The victims were in their home. They reported immediately. [It was] textbook. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. It’s really difficult to see victims go through the trauma of rape, go through the trauma of preparing for trial and prosecuting, doing everything and still completely locked out and let down by the system.”

Walker says she’s still dealing with the trauma from that April. She has post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress disorder and a physical condition she says is a result of the rape, something that required surgery.

During Hayes’ plea hearing, documents show Walker asked the judge to “show no leniency because [the victims] were never granted that option.” She believes her request was not honored by Taylor, but despite the trauma and outcome of the case and how tough their fight was, she also believes it’s paramount that other sexual assault victims come forward.

“You can’t give up because it’s only going to get worse,” Walker said. “You have to just keep fighting, and all of us together, we’re stronger than all of us separately.”

The judge who suspended Hayes’ sentence and gave credit for his time served pointed to his military service, his not having any priors, and that he “worked very hard in treatment to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Hayes’ attorney, state Rep. Deon Tedder, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, there are resources out there, including Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S. and the S.C. Victim Assistance Network (SCVAN).