Jury Votes Death Penalty for Yacht Murderer

Skylar Deleon tied a Calif. couple to an anchor and threw them off their yacht.

November 7, 2008, 10:30 AM

Nov. 7, 2008 — -- A California jury recommended the death penalty Thursday for a former child actor convicted last month of murdering a couple by chaining them to their boat anchor and throwing them overboard.

The recommendation followed closing arguments so intense they drove some jurors to tears.

Ryan Hawks, the couple's son, who sat through the tense, emotional trial, said that justice was not swift enough.

Skylar Deleon "is going to be sitting in that jail cell, socializing with his pals for four years before he is going to receive the needle, and my parents are still dead," he said.

Deleon, 29, sat impassively in his chair as the recommendation was made. His attorney later said he was "disappointed."

Deleon was found guilty Oct. 20 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.

At the outset of the trial, defense attorney Gary Pohlson admitted Deleon's guilt in the murders and argued for leniency in the penalty phase. Pohlson cited Deleon's childhood abuse in striking detail in an attempt to gain the sympathy of the jury.

But in his closing arguments, prosecutor Matt Murphy dismissed mistreatment as an excuse and, using the presidential election to highlight his point, noted that Barack Obama had suffered a tough childhood and that John McCain was a victim of torture.

Both men persevered to become great human beings, he said, in contrast to Deleon who became "one of the most prolific liars imaginable" and a murderer with "utter lack of humanity."

Murphy drew tears from some members of the jury when he showed a picture of Thomas and Jackie Hawks with their grandson.

Jackie Hawks had left out the "s" on her name on documents Deleon had forced her to sign before killing her; Murphy speculated she was trying to "send a flare into the future" that something was wrong. Murphy told the jurors "she was talking to you."

Pohlson did not argue the nature of the murders.

"You will never see murders more diabolical and heartless than these," he told jurors.

He said Deleon did not decide to become a killer, but was turned into one. Pohlson pointed the finger at Deleon's father for turning him "into a terrible man, into a murderer" and said Deleon's childhood was "as bad as it gets."

Despite the jury's recommendation, Deleon will not know his punishment for sure until it is handed down by Judge F. Fasel in January.

Three other men have been charged with the Hawkses' murders and have pleaded not guilty.

Last month, alleged accomplice Alonso Machain, a cooperating witness for the prosecution, described in gut-wrenching detail what happened aboard the Hawkses' yacht during their last hours.

Machain said 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,'' he 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.