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Hit man who killed SEPTA employee in 2012 pleads guilty to murder

Aaron Hayes Sr. was setup by his girlfriend and shot dead as he left home for work.

THE HIT MAN hired to kill a SEPTA trolley operator in front of the victim's Southwest Philadelphia home on May 31, 2012, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder yesterday.

Under the terms of a negotiated plea, Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner immediately sentenced Akai Thuong McRee-Tran to 30-to-60 years in state prison for the murder of Aaron Hayes Sr., 52.

McRee-Tran, 49, who was arrested last August under the alias Miguel Gonzalez, declined to make a statement prior to sentencing. He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to carrying a firearm without a license.

His co-defendant, Desiree Hicks, 58, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related counts last week and will be sentenced June 27.

"I don't think that I need to comment on the offense, on the cold-blooded nature of it. I think the facts speak for themselves," Lerner said.

Although Hicks and Hayes had been dating for 17 years and lived together in the victim's Elmwood Avenue home, she had reasons to want him dead, Assistant District Attorney Gail Fairman told Lerner.

Had the case gone to trial, Fairman said, witnesses would have testified that Hayes had told Hicks to move out because he was planning to marry another woman.

Hicks' adult son, Tony Hicks, would have testified that he heard her say that Hayes had taken a swing at her, which prompted her to say that she would not let anyone get the jump on her again, Fairman said.

Desiree Hicks' lawyer, James Berardinelli, last week said that statement was in reference to the fact that she survived a brutal attack by a former boyfriend in 1993 during which she was shot seven times and stabbed 75 times.

McRee-Tran was a neighborhood mechanic to whom Hicks owed money for working on her car. After he was arrested, McRee-Tran told homicide detectives she promised to give him money if he killed Hayes.

Hicks gave him a revolver and unlocked the doors of Hayes' van so he could hide inside the morning of the slaying, the hit man told detectives.

When Hayes, dressed in his SEPTA uniform, left his home for work that morning just before 5 a.m., and opened the back van doors, McRee-Tran shot him in the head, neck and elbow, Fairman told the court.

The victim died that morning. McRee-Tran fled to Honduras, where he was captured by the FBI Fugitive Task Force and brought back to Philadelphia.

The victim's only child, Aaron Hayes Jr., 28, said his father never abused Hicks.

"Today was a good day for my family as far as getting closure and moving forward," he said.