‘I forgive him’: Kingsport man falsely accused of attempted murder against his best friend speaks out


KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s not every day you wake up and learn a manhunt is underway for you – and you’re accused of a crime you didn’t commit.

But this is what happened to 20-year-old Jacob Hayes last week. On Thursday, Kingsport police alerted the community to be on the lookout for Hayes after an early morning shooting on the 1300 block of Ash Street. The charge was later dropped after Kingsport police said new evidence completely exonerated Hayes.

Police instead arrested Jacob Durham, a 19-year-old who was originally believed to be the victim. Durham was charged with felony false reporting.

Jacob Hayes

Hayes awoke Thursday morning to see news stories with his picture, and the Kingsport police saying he was considered ‘armed and dangerous,’ ‘wanted and at large,’ and an ‘attempted murder suspect.’ The KPD was calling for the public’s help in locating him.

“My phone was blowing up. Snapchat was blowing me up. Every Snapchat story I opened, it was like, ‘Jacob Hayes is [wanted for the] attempted second-degree murder of Jacob T. Durham.’ I’m like – that’s my best friend.”

Durham and Hayes

Hayes shared not only a first name with Jacob Durham, but a close friendship dating back to the eighth grade. He referred to Durham by his nickname, ‘JD.’ The two had hung out as recently as two nights before the shooting incident.

On that night, police arrived to the Ash St. residence, responding to an “aggravated assault” call made by Durham’s father.

“The victim had a large amount of blood on his pants, and stated he had been shot by the suspect, Jacob Hayes,” the police report reads.

This claim sparked the search for Hayes, who wanted to set the record straight as soon as possible.

“I immediately called the cops and I was like, this is not correct at all,” Hayes said.

On the night of the shooting, Hayes had slept at his girlfriend’s house. She captured video of him calling the police.

“I keep seeing news articles with my face on them saying I’m a murder suspect. I just got a job and I don’t want to get fired, man,” Hayes can be heard saying to the police on video.

Police soon surrounded the house on the 200 block of Easy Street. Hayes said a gun was pointed at him, and his girlfriend and her brother were handcuffed and questioned as well.

“Next thing I know there’s cops parked all up behind her house saying ‘get on the ground, get down here.’ And I just listened, threw my phone down, had my hands up,” he said.

The KPD said Hayes was taken into custody without incident. He spent the next 24 hours in jail, insisting he was innocent.

“I slept and cried the whole time. I’m not going to be the guy who’s going to be like ‘I was all tough in jail.’ I was a mess,” he said.

“While under Miranda, Mr. Hayes adamantly denied involvement in the case, and provided new and previously unknown information that was potentially exculpatory,” a police report reads. “I followed up on several of Mr. Hayes’ claims and found them to have merit.”

JD was released from the hospital and questioned again by investigators.

Hayes told News Channel 11 the new evidence brought forward was nanny cam footage from his girlfriend’s house. The video showed him at the house that night and sleeping there around the time of the shooting.

“The nanny cam was there just because you know, [her] dad was being overprotective… I was saved,” Hayes said. “You can see my arm, it was right in the pink shirt that I was arrested and [had] my mug shot in. It says ‘Thanks for nothing.’ So yeah. It was a pretty ironic shirt.”

Security camera footage helped prove Hayes’ innocence

According to a KPD report, Durham then confessed.

“Ultimately, Mr. Durham admitted while under Miranda advisement that Mr. Hayes did not shoot him, and in fact, had not even been present at any point during the evening that Mr. Durham had been shot,” the report reads.

Jacob Durham

Durham was arrested and charged with felony false reporting. Meanwhile, Hayes was released and exonerated.

Jacob Hayes doesn’t know why his best friend accused him of attempting murder. But the 20-year-old says the injured Durham may have said his name because they’d known each other for so long.

“Maybe he wasn’t blaming me. Maybe he was asking for me. But then he realized that’s a police statement at that point. And he had to stick with his story. I think if he had a second chance, he wouldn’t do it,” said Hayes.

Police have yet to release details on who really shot Durham. A report said Durham originally told authorities Hayes shot him in his driveway after a verbal argument about money Hayes owed Durham. A neighbor listed in the report claimed to have heard gunshots and saw a green box-style Scion leave the scene.

Hayes had his final meeting with detectives on Monday afternoon and said he’s eager to move on with his life. He called the incident a ‘wake-up call’ he and Durham both needed.

“I’ll be honest,” Hayes told News Channel 11. “I was doing some bad things. I was partying as much as I could. I was getting in with the wrong crowd. I guess I let my best friend use me for whatever he needed.”

Showing off a cross necklace given to him by his girlfriend, and recalling the by-chance evidence that helped prove him innocent, Hayes proudly says he’s no longer agnostic.

“When I was jail, I kept seeing this cross. I came out of this saying, ‘maybe God wanted me to talk about this… He wanted me to tell people that He’s real. I had so many people praying for me,” he said.

While Hayes doesn’t see himself ever being friends again with Durham, he says he forgives him.

“I thought we would be friends ’til we were old. And now I’ve lost him,” Hayes said. “And drugs are the worst thing ever. I really want it to be put out there that I forgive him. That I do. Because he was scared. I’d be scared too.”

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