Florida Keys

She went for a walk on a beautiful night in the Keys. It quickly became a horror

This is the wooded area where prosecutors say John Lee Hayes raped, brutally beat and robbed a woman who was walking on her way to meet friends at a Tavernier bar on March 13, 2016.
This is the wooded area where prosecutors say John Lee Hayes raped, brutally beat and robbed a woman who was walking on her way to meet friends at a Tavernier bar on March 13, 2016.

The type of weather on the night March 13, 2016, is the reason people want to live in the Keys. The temperature was around 70 degrees, not a hint of humidity and a field of bright, shining stars occupied the clear, dark sky.

“It was beautiful out. I toyed with the idea of taking a cab, but I thought, ‘why not walk.’ ”

That was the testimony given Tuesday morning at the Plantation Key Courthouse by a 39-year-old woman who police and prosecutors say was raped and brutally beaten by John Lee Hayes, 55, a landscaper from Big Pine Key. He is on trial for rape, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated battery.

By the time the attack was over, not only was the woman sexually violated, she was left with a broken jaw, eye socket and several ribs.

She had lacerations all over her body and was left traumatized crawling in the pitch black woods searching for her pants, underwear and phone.

When Assistant State Attorney Val Winter asked her co-worker, Daniel Dalton, to describe what his colleague looked like when he first saw her that night, he replied, “As if she was Rocky Balboa. It looked like she got into a boxing match.”

The woman was walking from her home near mile marker 90 on the ocean side of U.S. 1, to Dillons Pub & Grill in the Tavernier Towne shopping center at mile marker 91.2 bayside, to meet Dalton and his girfriend for beers. Since there would be some drinking, the woman opted to leave her car at home.

Before crossing the Tavernier Creek Bridge, the woman stopped by the Old Tavernier Restaurant & Lounge for a beer and to chat with some bartenders she knew who worked there. But it was a crowded night and she couldn’t find a stool, so she moved on, crossing U.S. 1 on the northern end of the bridge.

Once across the bridge, she rounded the bend of the highway, which runs alongside a wooded area, and approached the shopping center. This was just after 9 p.m. — moments before her attacker came out of nowhere and dragged her to hell.

“All of the sudden, I just see eyeballs coming out of the bushes,” the woman said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘You know what the f--- I’m doing.’ ”

Her attacker threw her to the ground, punched her and pulled her into the woods. She fought back, she told prosecutor Colleen Dunne, but the more she resisted, her attacker reciprocated with harsher blows from his fists. She was briefly knocked out, but woke up to something worse than any nightmare. She was face-down to the ground, inhaling dirt, with Hayes on her back, punching her again.

Hayes, she said, then flipped her over and raped her. During the attack, he “told me to kiss him like he was my boyfriend.”

When he finally stopped, the woman, who does not have children, fabricated a story that she had a child she had to get back to. Hayes, the woman said, asked her where she lived. Not being able to think of a lie on the spot, she told him.

“He told me he’d done this to six other women,” she told Dunne. “I was just going with it. I didn’t want to die.”

Hayes was charged with the rape in May 2016 after Monroe County Sheriff’s Office detectives sent DNA, including semen, to the Florid Department of Law Enforcement. Hayes is a career criminal and his DNA was on file. At the time, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, who prioritized the case, said “they came back pretty quickly that they had a DNA hit.”

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204