The family of Jeffrey T. Hayes expressed being haunted by thoughts of his killing, but offered forgiveness to Shawn Cottingham, who pleaded guilty Friday to manslaughter and robbery in the first-degree in connection to Hayes’ death.
Judge Rachelle Anderson sentenced Cottingham, 32, to 23 years in prison.
Hayes, 48, was found dead in a vacant 10-acre lot near Hayford and Balmer roads in Airway Heights on the morning of Dec. 2, 2021. Security footage from Northern Quest Resort & Casino showed Hayes waiting near the casino at around 10 a.m. when a white Kia Optima pulled up and a passenger opened a backdoor for him, the documents said. Hayes was dead minutes after that. According to call logs recorded in court documents, Cottingham and Hayes planned to meet that morning.
Cottingham and another man, Ezekiel Mentell, 23, were both arrested in connection with Hayes’ death in December 2021.
Vickie Hayes said that she is able to write about the killing of her youngest son to share with her family and close friends, but that when she begins to talk about it, it becomes “too real,” she told the courtroom through tears on Friday.
“I can see Jeff in a terrified state when he realized these two men were not friends. I begin to weep when I imagine Jeff’s panic,” she said. “The visual is overcome by the thoughts of what Jeff must have felt in such a short time as he struggled to get out of the car and there was nothing I could have done.”
Speaking via Zoom, she and her daughter, Kelly Deitman, also described some of their fondest memories of Jeffrey Hayes, who was adopted from Vietnam as an orphan during the last year of the Vietnam War, Vickie Hayes said. He had a host of health issues that stemmed from his days in an orphanage that “warehoused infants,” and later suffered from mental illness and substance abuse issues as an adult, Deitman said.
Considering the way he died, Vickie Hayes said she had a horrifying realization: “That Jeff died in a world of drugs, guns and violence – a picture of many communities in our America today and a similar environment from where he was born,” she said. “Did we rescue him?”
With his elbows on a table and his head resting in his hands, Cottingham listened to the details of Jeffrey Hayes’ early life.
“Shawn, I don’t know much about you, but I have the strong feeling that you have the potential of turning your life around,” she said. “You can be part of the good that comes from my son’s death. I hope you find good people who will help guide you.”
In a statement to the family, Cottingham said he did not expect forgiveness from the Hayes family.
“This was a very unfortunate mistake and I am very, very sorry, and I will do whatever I can to make it hurt less,” he said in court. “I am truly sorry.”
Although Cottingham alleged that he did not fire the shot that killed Hayes, he was responsible for creating the circumstance in which Hayes died, his attorney Derek Reid said.
Hayes had two gunshot wounds, one to his left calf and one to his neck, according to court documents. The bullet wound to his neck traveled and caused fatal injuries in his torso, according to the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The resolution of the case was unusually quick, considering the circumstances, which was in part because Cottingham wanted to take responsibility, Reid said.
“There’s accountability here,” Anderson said to Cottingham.
Although Cottingham has a handful of felony convictions dating back to 2014, none are violent and this incident was “atypical behavior,” Reid said of his client.
“I’m somewhat stunned by the reaction of the family,” Reid also added. “It’s kind of heartening that out of a really unfortunate tragedy, that there are still people like the Hayeses.”