A small-time robbery dashed one man’s college football dreams. Then a friend confessed

Yasmon Haynes, second row near the middle, was one of the people featured when Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer thanked the community on June 14 for its support in fighting a recent crime wave during his monthly media address.
Yasmon Haynes, second row near the middle, was one of the people featured when Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer thanked the community on June 14 for its support in fighting a recent crime wave during his monthly media address. Fresno Bee file

Yasmon Haynes was on the cusp of reviving his big-time college football dreams when a small-time robbery put things on hold.

Haynes, a former Edison High football standout, was arrested on robbery charges that could land him in prison. But the case didn’t make sense to his former coach, his lawyer, his mother – or a close friend and former teammate.

That friend, Xavier Hamilton, turned himself in this week to Fresno police, telling detectives that he – not Haynes – was the person who robbed a man of $300 during an iPhone sale.

Haynes’ future may now depend on a court hearing Friday, when his attorney will ask that charges be dropped in the interests of justice. That could allow Haynes to weigh his next stop – Lamar University in Texas or Southeastern Louisiana University, where his lawyer says he has football scholarship offers. But he also is interested in playing for Fresno State, said his lawyer, Margarita Martinez-Baly of Fresno.

Martinez-Baly said Haynes’ arrest was a case of mistaken identity, when the robbery victim – on the second try on a photo lineup – picked out Haynes as the person who robbed him. The victim had described the robber as being in his mid-20s, with medium build and about 6 feet tall.

Haynes stands about 6-foot-1 but is a solid 315 pounds. Hamilton is about 6-foot-1 and about 230 pounds, according to Fresno County Jail records.

Totally believable.

Former Edison High football coach Matt Johnson

The turn of events didn’t surprise the people who know them best – Haynes’ mother and their former coach at Edison High School, where Haynes, 20, and Hamilton, 19, both excelled in football and shared dreams of playing Division I college football.

“Totally believable,” said Matt Johnson, The Bee’s co-Coach of the Year in 2014 after the Edison High Tigers went 12-2, said of Hamilton’s surrendering to police.

Johnson called Hamilton “the X man,” the brash, talkative linebacker who helped Edison win the Valley championship in 2014. The year before, Haynes played offensive guard and defensive tackle and was a two-year Bee All-Star who closed a dominating three-year career by being named CMAC Outstanding Lineman for a 9-2 Tiger team.

Johnson said he would have been shocked to have learned that Haynes committed the robbery, saying it would be out of character for the “soft spoken gentle giant.” But he said he wasn’t surprised by Hamilton surrendering to police.

“At Edison, we stressed the importance of family, that we have to stick together, ” said Johnson, who will be coaching at Madera South High School in the fall. Edison players also were taught to be accountable for their actions, he said.

“The X man is a great kid with a big heart,” Johnson said. “As much as I love him, he had bouts of running with some bad characters.

“It’s sad to hear he’s in trouble, but it also is an awesome feeling to know he stepped up to the plate,” Johnson said. “That shows a lot of character.”

The story of Haynes and Hamilton, who grew up together in southwest Fresno, is being played out across America: Two young men finding hope for the future by playing football. And the two childhood friends are more than friends, they’re like brothers. Hamilton often ate dinner at Haynes’ home, watched movies them and went to church with them, said Haynes’ mother, Yasmin Haynes.

She said when her son was playing football at Laney College, a community college in Oakland, last season, Hamilton drove her to the games. “He’s like my son,” Yasmin Haynes said of Hamilton. “Always respectful, always nice.”

When her son got arrested in May, Yasmin Haynes said she could tell something was bothering Hamilton.

“He told me he made a mistake,” Yasmin Haynes said. “He told me he wasn’t going to let Yasmon pay for something he didn’t do.”

He’s like my son.

Yasmin Haynes said of Xavier Hamilton

So, together, Yasmin Haynes and Hamilton went to the police station on Tuesday.

Yasmin Haynes cried when she recounted Hamilton’s surrender. She said Hamilton was nervous, but willingly went to the police station. He bailed out of jail on Wednesday.

She said she is close with Hamilton’s mother, and felt sad for him because he was raised without a father (he has a stepfather). Though she divorced Haynes’ father when he was in grade school, she said he always took an interest in their five children.

Challenging upbringing

In their search for football stardom, both young men have had their share of lumps.

In March 2014, Hamilton earned MVP honors among the linebackers group at the National Underclassmen Five Star West Camp at Village Christian High in Los Angeles. Cal Poly linebackers coach Josh Brown also had reached out to Hamilton.

Hamilton’s football career, however, didn’t work out as planned, Yasmin Haynes said. But he didn’t give up. This summer he was trying to revive it at a community college in Southern California, she said.

Haynes’ journey to Division I football also hasn’t been smooth. From Edison, he chose to play at Portland State. He quickly left once the coach who recruited him left Portland State, Johnson said. Haynes played at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, but that didn’t work out, either, his mother said. His career was revived at Laney College in Oakland, but he also got in trouble while there.

The victim identified the gunman as a black male, about 6 feet tall, in his mid-20s with a medium build. Haynes is about 6-1, 315 pounds.

A Fresno police report on the iPhone robbery said Haynes was arrested in 2016 for possession of a gun. Yasmin Haynes said her son had the gun for protection. At one point, he was homeless and sleeping in his car while attending Laney College.

“When I found out, I got so mad at him,” said Yasmin Haynes, a teacher’s aide for autistic children in the Fresno Unified School District. “I told him that he had to go to court and resolve it himself.”

Martinez-Baly said the Alameda County case was resolved with a misdemeanor on Haynes’ record. A check of Fresno County Superior Court records show that neither Haynes nor Hamilton have a criminal records here.

Haynes is free on $25,000 bail while his trial is pending on the robbery charge, court records say. His great-grandmother, Rena Myles, scraped together money to hire Martinez-Baly.

Yasmin Haynes said Martinez-Baly is godsend: “When I need to talk, she listens to my concerns. When I need to cry, she is there to comfort me.”

Most of all, Yasmin Haynes said, Martinez-Baly believes in her son’s innocence.

Singled out?

Yasmin Haynes said Fresno police unfairly targeted her son. But Martinez-Baly said she believes Haynes’ gun conviction prompted police to focus on him when the robbery happened on Feb. 21. She also said Chief Jerry Dyer has made Haynes a poster child for crime in the city when he showed Haynes’ photo to reporters at a news conference this month about the latest crime statistics.

Fresno police did not reply to requests for comment on the case.

Police contend Haynes advertised an iPhone 7 for sale on the internet site OfferUp for $280. When the buyer showed up in southeast Fresno, the victim was robbed at gunpoint of $300.

The victim identified the gunman as a black male, about 6-feet tall, in his mid-20s with a medium build. The gunman was wearing a beige hooded sweatshirt and held an older model semi automatic handgun. He said the other robber appeared to be 17 years old, skinny and about 5-foot-8-inches tall with a black hooded sweatshirt.

Yasmin Haynes said her son “never had a medium build,” noting that he was 9 pounds, four ounces at birth. “He’s huge.”

Johnson, the former Edison coach, said Haynes topped 300 pounds while at Edison.

Defense lawyers and police often are viewed as adversaries. But in the end, we all want the same thing – justice.

Fresno lawyer Margarita Martinez-Baly

After the robbery, police got the identity of the person who put the iPhone ad on OfferUp. Their search warrant for the account turned up two emails – one for Haynes and one for Hamilton.

Martinez-Baly said Haynes’ email was the secondary one on the OfferUp application; Hamilton’s email was the primary one on the account. That because the longtime friends know each other’s emails, she said.

In fact., Martinez-Baly said, the subpoenaed records say OfferUp welcomed Hamilton – not Haynes – to the Internet site as the owner of the account. The phone number on the account also is linked to Hamilton, she said.

“Haynes’ name never comes up on OfferUp,” the lawyer said.

In addition, the robbery took place outside the home of one of Hamilton’s relatives, Martinez-Baly said.

Since Haynes’ arrest, Martinez-Baly said she has been working with Fresno police detective Miguel Archan to clear Haynes’ name. She said she has turned over evidence that implicates Hamilton, such as text messages between Haynes and Hamilton. She also pointed out Hamilton’s Facebook page that advertises cell phones for sale, Martinez-Baly said.

Because Hamilton turned himself in, Haynes’ lawyer plans to ask a judge on Friday to dismiss the case against Haynes in the interest of justice.

Martinez-Baly said Archan has been receptive to her evidence. “Defense lawyers and police often are viewed as adversaries, ” Martinez-Baly said. “But in the end, we all want the same thing – justice.”

Because Hamilton turned himself in, Martinez-Baly said she plans to ask Superior Court Judge Don Penner on Friday to dismiss the case against Haynes.

“That was an incredible thing to do,” Martinez-Baly said of Hamilton’s surrender to police. “He did the right thing and should be commended for it because it shows he can be redeemed.”

But Martinez-Baly also said the system can be cruel to young men who make mistakes: “He’s facing a potential prison sentence.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts