In a moment of courtroom drama, the mother of Skylar Deleon, the man convicted last week of murdering an Arizona couple by chaining them to an anchor and throwing them off their yacht, recounted how her son almost drowned in a pool as a child.
Deleon's mother, Lynette O'Daniel, echoed previous testimony that Deleon had been molested by his late father, John Julius Jacobson Sr., as a child. She testified that the boy had grown up in a house of drugs and orgies. O'Daniel left Jacobson when Skylar was 2 years old.
But the day's most dramatic moment came when O'Daniel recounted an incident in which the child almost drowned in the family's pool.
As she remembered the horror of a mother pulling her child from the water, prosecuting attorney Matt Murphy asked, "What is that like, ma'am, to watch someone you love drown?" The courtroom went quiet as the prosecutor quickly made a pointed reference to Deleon's recent murders: "He was not tied to an anchor, correct?"
O'Daniel is the latest witness called by defense attorney Gary Pohlson in hopes of using Deleon's childhood mistreatment to gain sympathy from the jury and avoid the death penalty for his client.
Deleon, 29, was found guilty last Monday of murdering Thomas and Jackie Hawks, with several accomplices, after he posed as a potential buyer for their yacht. He was also convicted in the 2003 murder of John Jarvi. Deleon reportedly baited Jarvi into traveling to Mexico with him to complete an easy-money business deal but instead slit the 45-year-old's throat, robbed him of $50,000 and left the body near a Mexican highway.
Pohlson admitted Deleon's guilt at the start of the trial and has since been arguing for leniency in the penalty phase.
Both Deleon's stepmother, Lisa Wildin, and his half sister, Stephanie Jacobson, testified to Jacobson's abusive nature.
Wildin said that Deleon was regularly beaten by his father if "he got a pimple" or if he "didn't have his hair combed right."
Stephanie Jacobson, 21, said that her father was "an awful person" and even though he was allegedly abusive to everyone in the family, "Skylar got the wrath of it all," including multiple occasions in which Jacobson shoved toothpicks under Deleon's fingernails.
In gut-wrenching detail, alleged accomplice Alonso Machain, a cooperating witness for the prosecution, told jurors last week that he, Deleon and a third man overpowered the couple, handcuffed the two to the anchor and sent them hurtling to their deaths.
"They were basically yanked -- yanked into the ocean,'' Machain told Orange County jurors, as tears welled up in the eyes of the Hawkes' friends and family in the courtroom gallery.
Deleon and the other men then turned the boat around and began an hour-long trip back to the shore, according to testimony. One cracked open a beer and grabbed a fishing pole and "started fishing,'' Machain said.
Jennifer Deleon, Skylar Deleon's former wife, was tried and convicted for murdering Tom and Jackie Hawks and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, in a separate 2006 trial.
Machain cooperated with the prosecution in a deal to avoid the death penalty; alleged co-conspirator John Fitzgerald Kennedy is awaiting trial. Adam Rohrig, a fourth man reportedly involved, was not on the boat when the murders took place and is not expected to face charges.