Man pleads guilty to killing cancer patient at McGuire hospital
RICHMOND, Va. -- A Blackstone man pleaded guilty Tuesday to the fatal shooting of a cancer patient at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond.
Cornelius I. Hayes, 55, pleaded guilty in federal court in Richmond to using a firearm in a violent crime that caused the death of James "Stevie" Lee, 58.
Lee, also of Blackstone, was shot in the shoulder and the head in a parking lot outside the hospital on Feb. 22, according to a statement of facts in the case. He was taken to VCU Medical Center, where he died.
Under the plea agreement, Hayes will not be prosecuted on other charges he had faced, including attempted murder of a hospital employee. Attorneys did not agree on a punishment for Hayes.
Authorities decided not to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors and the defense agree that sentencing guidelines call for a range of 30 years to life in prison for Hayes, according to the statement of facts.
A sentencing hearing was set for Jan. 18.
Hayes, a housekeeping employee at the hospital, lived on the same street in Blackstone as Lee, an Army veteran.
Lee's daughter, Marttwet Wilson, said in an interview in February that Hayes and his live-in girlfriend sometimes would take Lee with them to McGuire, where Lee was undergoing cancer treatment.
Wilson said Hayes and the girlfriend, who was Lee's first cousin, had broken up the night before the shooting but that she was unaware of any reason Hayes would hurt Lee.
On the morning of the shooting, the girlfriend had taken Lee to the hospital, where they unexpectedly encountered Hayes in the parking lot, Wilson said.
FBI agent William Frank Jr. testified Feb. 29 that Hayes told authorities on the day of the shooting that he had smoked crack cocaine the night before.
Wilson said Lee was shot after Hayes' girlfriend told Hayes that he could come to the home they had shared and pick up his things. After Lee was shot, the girlfriend pleaded with Hayes not to shoot her and he did not, Wilson said.
Wilson said in February that Hayes' girlfriend, like Hayes, worked at the medical center.
In addition to killing Lee, authorities had accused Hayes of attempting to kill another hospital employee -- not his girlfriend -- on hospital grounds.
According to the statement of facts, Hayes approached his girlfriend and Lee and engaged in a "verbal confrontation" with his girlfriend. Then he shot Lee in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground, according to the statement of facts.
Hayes' girlfriend ran. Hayes followed her a short distance before he returned to Lee, who was on the ground, and shot him again, authorities said.
Hayes said that he shot Lee twice and that he thought he had fired three or four shots, Frank testified earlier.
"Cornelius Hayes admitted that he shot and killed James Lee that tragic day in February," U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride said in a statement Tuesday. "He now faces up to life in prison for bringing and then using a firearm to resolve a domestic dispute. Today's guilty plea brings closure one step closer for the victims and their families."
Authorities found a gun on Hayes' lap when they stopped his vehicle in Chesterfield County after a 10-minute chase, Frank said. The .38-caliber five-shot Taurus revolver contained three spent cartridges and two live rounds, the agent testified.