Tearful Testimony in Yacht Murder Trial

Family of victims testify as prosecutors seek death for Skylar Deleon.

ByKimi Culp and Chris Francescani
October 22, 2008, 4:59 PM

Oct. 23, 2008 — -- Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the penalty phase of the murder trial of Skylar Deleon, a man convicted of tying a California couple to the anchor of their yacht and throwing them overboard.

Before concluding, prosecutors played home videos of the couple on their last voyage together. Police say the tapes were found in a video camera Deleon stole after the murders.

The jury must decide whether Deleon should get the death penalty or life in prison.

A 20-minute video showed Tom and Jackie Hawks traveling together on their beloved yacht, the Well Deserved. The final clip showed the couple, who planned to sell the boat in order to spend more time with their grandson, celebrating their last trip with family and friends.

The video then cut abruptly to images of Deleon's family at Thanksgiving.

Deleon, 29, was found guilty Monday of murdering the couple, with several accomplices, after he posed as a potential buyer for their yacht. He was also convicted in the 2003 murder of John Jarvi.

The home videos capped an emotional day of testimony from the victims' relatives, several of whom cried on the witness stand as they described the Hawkses as a loving couple and devoted parents.

"He was more like my best friend," said Ryan, Tom Hawks' son.

Jackie Hawks' mother, Gayle O'Neill, choked up on the witness stand as she called her daughter "a wonderful person, loving, caring."

"She would do anything for anybody," she said. "I think of them in the morning when I wake up and at night before I go to bed."

Witnesses, including one of Deleon's alleged accomplices, testified that Thomas and Jackie Hawks were blindfolded, beaten, shackled to the anchor of their beloved yacht, thrown overboard and drowned.

Deleon's lawyer admitted on the first day of trial that Deleon was guilty, but asked asking the jury to spare his life.

Click here to see a slideshow of Tom and Jackie Hawks' pictures.

As a teenager, when Ryan Hawks once complained about his sometimes strict father, he said Tom Hawks looked him in the eye and said, "You will thank me one day for the man you are yet to become."

"And I never got to thank him," Hawks said today.

Jarvi's mother, Betty Jarvi, described her son as "very clever, he sparkled."

Another witness testified that Deleon tried to have three critical witnesses against him killed before his trial.

Daniel Elias testified that Deleon offered him $3 million to kill the witnesses. Elias, a career criminal who met Deleon at the Orange County Jail, said Wednesday that Deleon told him, "if [the witnesses] were gone, he could beat this case."

All three witnesses testified against Deleon.

'Yanked' to Their Deaths

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 them 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 Hawkses' friends and family in the courtroom gallery.

Deleon and the other men then turned the boat around and began an hourlong 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.

Elias testified that Deleon asked him to kill Rohrig; Kathleen Harris, a notary; and Deleon's cousin Mike Lewis. Elias claims Deleon promised him $1 million for himself and an additional $2 million for the men Elias would hire for the killings.

Harris testified that she was duped into doctoring documents for the Deleons and then threatened with violence if she didn't continue to cooperate with the plot.

Harris met the couple through Rohrig, a mutual friend. Harris claimed she met the couple at an extended-stay hotel, where they asked her to backdate and notarize documents that were related to the Hawkses' boat.

"I really didn't know it was going to be fraudulent," Harris said of the documents she notarized. Though her normal fee was between $50 and $250, the prosecution said she received $2,000.

"I did not know how much he paid me until I got in the car," Harris said.

But she added that Jennifer Deleon promised her more money "when this is all over."

Harris said she didn't feel right about the transaction, so she called Rohrig to inquire further about the Deleons. She said Rohrig told her during a phone conversation several days later that she'd need to take care of more documents, or that Skylar Deleon, who he said had ties to the Mexican drug cartels, would come after her family.

"I was going to do whatever I needed for me and my family not to be killed," she said.

Rohrig, she said, then gave her physical descriptions of the Hawkses and, "He told me to tell the detectives that I met Tom and Jackie by the yacht to sign the documents."

Harris said she repeatedly lied to investigators in interviews, saying she wanted to tell the truth, "but I was scared for my life. I was told he [Deleon] had killed over 20 people."

"I was always watching my back, I always felt like someone was after me," she said.

Harris received immunity from the prosecution in exchange for her cooperation.

Shaking 'Uncontrollably'

After two years living out their dreams of a life together on the Pacific Ocean, the Hawkses felt the emotional tug of family and decided it was time to move to Arizona to be with grandson Jace, born in August 2004. They put their yacht up for sale for $440,000.

On Nov. 15, 2004, the final night of their lives, the Hawkses steered their yacht out of southern California's Newport Harbor just before sunset with Deleon, Machain and Kennedy on board.

Deleon, who had told the Hawkses he was interested in buying the boat, said he wanted to be taken out to sea so he could swim below and examine the bottom of the yacht.

Without warning, the terror began, according to testimony.

Machain testified that as they sailed the Pacific that day, he was talking to Jackie Hawks in the kitchen when he noticed, "Mr. Kennedy had Mr. Hawks in a neck lock."

Machain said he took that as his cue, as he was "in charge" of Jackie, and quickly moved in and "tried to get in on her."

"But she was biting," he said. "I managed to get a wrist lock [handcuff] on her."

The men forced the couple to sign ownership documents and power-of-attorney papers over to Deleon, repeatedly telling at them that "if they cooperated they would be let go," Machain said.

Deleon took out a laptop computer and started demanding the couple's personal information, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth and Jackie Hawks' maiden name, according to Machain.

Yacht Couple Handcuffed, Pleaded for Their Lives

The men handcuffed the couple and covered their mouths and eyes with duct tape. They were forced on top of their bed, where Machain was assigned to "baby-sit" them for several hours while Deleon searched for an anchor, Machain told jurors, adding that Jackie Hawks was crying and her hands were "uncontrollably shaking."

After several hours, Machain said the tape over the Hawkses' mouths became loose enough that he could understand what they were saying. He said that Jackie Hawks said over and over that "she did not want to die, she wanted to see her grandson."

Machain said he witnessed Tom Hawks trying to comfort her and "tell her everything was going to be OK."

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