Ex-'Sons of Guns' reality TV star Will Hayden pleads not guilty to rape charges in Baton Rouge court _lowres

Ex-'Sons of Guns' reality TV star Will Hayden

After spending several years in the limelight in front of television cameras, former "Sons of Guns" reality TV personality Will Hayden will be sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars after a jury unanimously convicted him Friday of raping two preteen girls more than two decades apart in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The 51-year-old Hayden's accusers, a 15-year-old girl and a 37-year-old woman who both no longer live in Louisiana, cried and hugged inside state District Judge Mike Erwin's courtroom as the verdicts were announced: guilty on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of forcible rape.

Hayden, of Greenwell Springs, will be sentenced May 11. Aggravated rape carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The jury of six women and six men deliberated for an hour following four days of testimony, including emotionally charged testimony from the girl and woman.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said it was only fitting that the convictions came during National Crime Victims' Week.

"We no longer have victims in this case, we have survivors," Moore said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse, from where Hayden's accusers left without commenting on the verdicts. "This is the survivors' day."

Moore said he hopes the verdicts, and the courage it took for the girl and woman to come into court and face their sexual abuser, will empower others in their shoes to come forward and speak out against their abusers.

"There is a way out," he said.

Moore said he also hopes the case sends a message to state lawmakers that life sentences are appropriate in some cases.

Hayden's 15-year-old accuser testified Wednesday and Thursday that Hayden raped her repeatedly in 2013 and 2014 when she was 11 and 12 years old.

The 37-year-old woman testified Tuesday that Hayden raped her in the early 1990s when she was 12 and 13. She said she decided to come forward after news broke of Hayden's first arrest in August 2014. That arrest accused him of raping the now-15-year-old girl. His second arrest that month came in the rape of the woman.

During prosecutor Sonya Cardia-Porter's closing arguments to the jury earlier Friday, the girl reached back from her front-row seat in the courtroom and clutched the hand of the 37-year-woman sitting behind her. The girl appeared to mouth that it wasn't the woman's fault that the girl was abused.

Hayden took the stand in his own defense Thursday and denied all of the rape allegations.

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Cardia-Porter, in her closing arguments, called Hayden a "master manipulator" who raped two young girls and then lied to a jury in a "pretty well rehearsed" performance.

"Don't let him manipulate you like he manipulated them all those years," she implored the jury.

Referring to "Sons of Guns," which the Discovery Channel canceled in 2014 amid Hayden's legal troubles, Cardia-Porter added, "That show is acting, and he acted on that (witness) stand like he acted on that show."

Hayden's attorney, Bo Rougeou, told the panel in his closing argument that Hayden was unshakeable on the witness stand because he was telling the truth.

"I feel like I must have overlooked something," Rougeou said. "The jury saw something I didn't."

Hayden's former personal assistant at Red Jacket Firearms, Rebecca Ramsey, testified earlier in the week that she walked in on her then-boss on Aug. 4, 2014, when Hayden was kissing the girl in the living room of his Greenwell Springs Road home. The next day, Ramsey filed a report with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, triggering an investigation that led to Hayden's multiple arrests.

"She had a conscience," Cardia-Porter said of Ramsey.

Just as Moore said to reporters, Cardia-Porter told the jury that the girl and woman are survivors -- not victims.

Hayden also faces sex crimes charges in Livingston Parish, including an aggravated rape count involving the 15-year-old girl and a sex crime charge involving his oldest daughter and former "Sons of Guns" co-star Stephanie Hayden. She appeared on the "Dr. Phil" show in 2014 and said her father entered her bedroom one night about two decades ago while intoxicated and pinched and kissed her while trying to disrobe her. She said she escaped and he did not touch her inappropriately again.

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Will Hayden's trial in Livingston is scheduled for July.

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.

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