'Yacht' Killer Was Father's Slave, Defense Says

Defense, hoping to avoid death penalty, says Deleon had abusive father.

October 28, 2008, 11:09 AM

Oct. 28, 2008 — -- A California man convicted of chaining an Arizona couple to the anchor of their yacht and throwing them overboard to their deaths was the victim of malevolent abuse, himself, his attorney told jurors during the penalty phase of a high-profile murder trial.

Skylar Deleon was sexually abused, beaten and tortured by his late father, John Julius Jacobson Sr., according to attorney Gary Pohlson. Jacobson recently died from AIDS, reportedly.

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, who admitted Deleon's guilt in the murders at the start of the trial, is attempting to convince the jury to spare his client from lethal injection.

In his opening statement, Pohlson said Deleon was the victim of a "brutal, brutal" upbringing. Pohlson said Deleon was made to "sleep naked" with his father and was essentially "John's slave."

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 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.

Prosecutors, seeking the death penalty for Deleon, rested their case last week on an emotional note by playing a 20-minute home video of Tom and Jackie Hawks traveling on their beloved yacht, the Well Deserved.

Before the video, 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 the yacht, and thrown overboard.

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

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 Hawks's 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.

Daniel Elias, a career criminal who met Deleon at the Orange County jail, 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 Hawks' 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 Hawks 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.

After two years living out their dreams of a life together on the Pacific Ocean, the Hawks 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 Hawks 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 Hawks he was interested in buying the boat, said he wanted to be taken out to sea so he could swim below and examine the hull.

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 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.

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 Hawks' 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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