- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

A high school history teacher has the most complete files on capital punishment in the United States.

Bill Hayes can tell you even what executed convicts dined on before their appointment with death.

"Let's see, for Ted Bundy, it was steak, eggs, with hash browns and coffee," says the 57-year-old Leesburg, Fla., teacher, audibly clicking his way through a computer database that has detailed information on the country's 6,000 death-row inmates past and present.

Karla Faye Tucker, the Texas woman who killed, then converted to Christianity, wasn't much in the mood for a pre-eternity snack: "A healthy dinner: banana, sliced peaches, salad, crackers, and a soda, but she ate just a little of it," he reports.

With the devotion of a professional researcher and the passion of a man committed to facts, Mr. Hayes is a fact machine on capital punishment in the United States.

"As of right now, there are 3,627 people in the United States on death row," he says. That figure changes almost daily.

Mr. Hayes' files also include another 2,400 convicts who have been executed or exonerated, a collection that, most in the death-penalty field agree, is the most complete in existence. He turned to his grim pastime after the death of his 18-year-old daughter in a 1983 car accident.

"I needed something to concentrate on," explains Mr. Hayes, who is divorced and the father of a 31-year-old son in Austin, Texas.

It was his daughter's death that brought the term "closure" home to him. He now understands why, when victims' families call him, they ask about the crime and about the punishment.

"These families want to know if there is anything they can do to hasten the execution, how they can witness the execution," Mr. Hayes says. "They seek the assurance that this killer can't get out. That's the most popular call."

Even inmates contact him on occasion. One wanted to straighten out the facts on a murder he had committed. One wanted to ensure his name is spelled correctly. Another wanted to change his name on the database to reflect his conversion to Islam.

"I told him that when the state changes his name on its record, that's when I change his name," Mr. Hayes says.

During the summer, the teacher travels around the country to courthouses and penal institutions, seeking information on specific cases and more fodder for his database. He has interviewed a number of convicted killers during his travels and attended the trials of Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos, a Florida hitchhiker who killed men who picked her up.

He keeps articles, police reports and other death-row detritus in boxes Charles Manson takes up 10 of them and all materials related to an inmate as his death date approaches.

Mr. Hayes takes no position for or against the death penalty. He says his database is neither a protest nor a hobby.

"The nutty pro-death-penalty people are usually very intolerant, and the anti-death-penalty people are either terribly naive or don't care much about the truth," he says.

The Supreme Court eliminated the death penalty in 1972. Starting in 1976, states began enacting legislation to reinstate it. Thirty-eight states now have it, and more than 660 men and women have been put to death since reinstatement.

"I really think that I provide a service," he says. "I have legal people call me for information all the time, and there are some e-mails and phone calls that I don't return. I can tell when somebody might be a little crazy."

Not that he puts himself in that box of crazy.

"I suppose it sounds a little odd," he concedes. "But it really took my mind off things, and I threw myself into it."

He asks a variety of questions: What were the executed man's last words? How old were his victims? What was the cause of death of those victims? The database tells all.

"It is comprehensive," says Larry Fitzgerald, a public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Mr. Fitzgerald has met Mr. Hayes several times during Mr. Hayes' visits to the Texas prison system, one of the country's largest.

"He's the only one who has taken this information and put it in a book form," Mr. Fitzgerald says. "I use his book."

Mr. Hayes' yearbook, Death Row, is an annual guide to U.S. executions that is assembled and co-written by Bonnie Bobit, an Arizona publisher and passionate death-penalty advocate.

"Bill provides all the statistical information for our book," Miss Bobit says. "He is incredibly in tune. Several death-row states actually check their records with him."

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