Yacht Murderer Wanted Sexual Reassignment Surgery

Skylar Deleon, who murdered two people, says it's unfortunate he's still a man.

February 4, 2009, 9:12 PM

Feb. 6, 2009— -- Skylar Deleon had wanted a sex change for a long time, and finally decided to take matters into his own hands.

In his first network television interview since being convicted for murdering a couple aboard their yacht, Skylar Deleon told ABC News that he wanted to be a woman so badly, he tried to cut off his genitalia in prison.

"I basically took a sheet and tied it around my lower extremity … I tied it around and I went to cut it off," he told ABC News.

Deleon's dreams of big money and a more luxurious lifestyle came to an end after he murdered Tom and Jackie Hawks aboard the couple's yacht in 2004. In October 2008, the jury voted for the death penalty for Deleon, 29, a former child actor .

But some believe the motive behind the murders didn't have to do with a desire for material wealth, or Deleon's abusive childhood. Instead, the cold-blooded killings may have been driven by Deleon's gender identity.

"This caper, this entire murder, this desire to get some wealth, to get some money, was to pay for that sex change," said Michael Molfetta, a defense attorney who represented Deleon's wife, Jennifer.

Deleon said he had long thought about removing his organ. Investigators found evidence in the garage apartment he shared with his wife, Jennifer, that indicated he had been researching the procedure. His wife's trial attorney told "20/20" Deleon often wore women's clothes and was determined to be a female.

During the interview Deleon was quick to point out that he's straight, and that even though he wanted to be a woman, he also wanted to continue his relationship with his wife.

"I'm not attracted to guys," he said. "But I wanted the surgery, and I knew I 100 percent wanted the surgery. But I only like females."

Deleon said he avoided the surgery for a long time because he wanted his daughter to "have the most normal life possible" and didn't want to "mix her up."

In the end Deleon said he and his wife decided he would go forward with the sexual reassignment surgery one day. But when Deleon was convicted for murder, and jailed, he knew that day would never come.

"I'll do it myself," he recalled thinking.

He hoped that if he became female he would be moved into a women's prison because, "I get along a lot better with females than I do with the guys."

As Deleon tried to cut off his penis, he said the prison deputies stopped him right away, rushed into his jail cell and brought him to the hospital.

"[The deputies] got me too quick," he said. "And it's a lot harder to cut than you think."

It didn't hurt, he said, not until afterward. "Unfortunately," Deleon said, he is still a man.

An American Dream Shattered By Murder

The events leading up to Deleon's jail sentence captured national attention. Each harrowing moment of Deleon's crime was laid out in painful detail during a calm confession from Alonso Machain, an accomplice and eyewitness to the murders.

In his confession, Machain described Deleon's plot to kill the couple, including important details up until the moment Deleon pushed the couple overboard.

When asked about the murder, Deleon said "I've never really felt evil. I felt more of, 'I don't care. I don't care about my life. I don't care about what happens to you.'"

Tom, 57, and Jackie Hawks, 47, had worked all their lives to retire early. They quit the 9-5 world to live the life they had saved for during all those hard years working. Tom Hawks was a parole officer and Jackie Hawks was a mother to his two boys, Matt and Ryan.

Ryan Hawks, 32, said his father lived a frugal lifestyle.

"The reason he was able to retire early and live on the water and do this dream of traveling through Mexico was because of his financial responsibility," he said.

Tom and Jackie Hawks bought a 55-foot live-aboard yacht, the Well-Deserved, a mostly wooden boat with teak decks and brass rails. When they became grandparents, they decided to leave their two years of life on the water. They invited their friends on board and said goodbye to the vagabond life. Then, the Well-Deserved was put up for sale.

In Long Beach, another California couple were thinking about making some life changes of their own. Skylar Deleon and his wife, Jennifer, wanted a better place to live and when they saw an ad for the Well-Deserved, they hatched a sinister plot to make it their dreamboat.

"[Jennifer] wanted that fairy-tale life," Skylar Deleon said.

Skylar Deleon and his wife were both deep in debt. A minor role in the popular '80s television show "Power Rangers" did not help Deleon's acting career. He made a few commercials, locally and nationally, with limited success. After joining the Marine Corps only to be discharged, he bounced from job to job while his wife worked as a hairdresser.

Finally, Deleon stayed home to watch his daughter, unable to earn enough money to justify paying a babysitter.

Suspicions Surface

In 2003, Skylar and Jennifer Deleon were desperate to move, and when they saw an ad for a boat docked at Newport Beach that was big enough to live on, they wanted it and were willing to do anything to get it.

"It was more of like a financial thing and making [Jennifer] happy and just. ... I guess that's, that's really about it," Skylar Deleon told ABC News.

The Well-Deserved, however, had a hefty price tag of $435,000. Skylar Deleon had nowhere near that kind of money, but he asked to see the boat anyway.

He and his pregnant wife introduced themselves to the couple in person, with their 2-year-old daughter in tow. Even though Tom and Jackie Hawks were perplexed as to how such a young man could afford to buy their yacht, Ryan Hawks believes the presence of Deleon's wife and toddler reassured Tom and Jackie Hawks.

"[Jennifer Deleon is] the one that did the convincing. You show a family to my family, they're gonna let down their guard," Ryan Hawks said. They soon set out to sea.

Tricia Schutz, a close family friend who handled the Tom and Jackie Hawks' finances while they were away, soon became worried.

"Matt called me and said, 'I haven't been able to get in touch with my mom and dad.' … And not 10 minutes later Ryan called me: 'I'm looking for mom and dad,'" she said. "They always stayed in contact with family … everybody was worried."

If Tom and Jackie Hawks had sold their boat, Schutz would have been the first to know: She would have seen the new money enter their bank accounts.

When Schutz discovered that no money had been deposited, "We all knew that something terrible was wrong."

Orange County, Calif., prosecutor Matt Murphy said Skylar Deleon told police he had bought the boat, paid in cash in a parking lot in Newport and then watched the couple drive away.

Skylar Deleon's words didn't sound right to Ryan Hawks. Right away, he said, he knew that his parents had been murdered and that Skylar Deleon had something to do with it.

In a desperate attempt to find Tom and Jackie Hawks, Ryan Hawks appeared on national TV to plead for answers.

His TV appearances paid off when a person in Baja, Calif. said they recognized images of the car. The witness said it was left in Mexico, not by anyone matching Tom or Jackie Hawks' picture, but instead by Skylar Deleon.

The story unraveled further when a bank surveillance tape in Kingman, Ariz., showed the Deleons trying to access Tom and Jackie Hawks' account.

The Deleons arrived at the bank with a power of attorney signed by both Jackie and Tom Hawks. Jackie Hawks' signature, however, appeared abnormal and it was signed "Hawk" instead of "Hawks."

New Evidence Emerges

A search of the Deleons' little garage apartment turned up key evidence: videotape of the Deleon family that had clearly been taped over video of the Hawks family on a video camera that had been stolen from the Hawks.

The evidence weighed against the Deleons, but there wasn't enough to convict Skylar Deleon of murder -- that is, until a guard from the Seal Beach jail confessed.

Alonso Machain had met and befriended Skylar Deleon when Deleon was serving time for burglary.

"I don't think anybody realized how horrible it was until we talked to Alonso," said Murphy.

In court, Machain explained in horrific detail the Deleons' premeditated plan to steal from Tom and Jackie Hawks.

According to Machain, the day Tom and Jackie Hawks took the Deleons out to sea, they were accompanied by both Machain and John Kennedy, a reputed member of the Long Beach Insane Crips gang who had served time for attempted murder. Through an intermediary, Skylar Deleon arranged to meet and hire Kennedy that same day at a Long Beach, Calif., liquor store. Machain said Kennedy was asked to present himself to the couple as "an accountant or something of that nature."

Once they were all out at sea, Murphy said the group Tasered Tom Hawks several times and then handcuffed him. Tom Hawks, a champion wrestler in college and a physical fitness buff, had made it extremely difficult for the men to overpower him. But after a fierce struggle, Tom Hawks was unable to overcome the surprise attack. Tragically, he was almost able to save the lives of his wife and himself, but was eventually overpowered.

Machain explained in court that his assignment was to restrain Jackie Hawks above deck.

"So then I heard a loud … Thumps, you know, like up against the wall," said Machain. "She was fighting. She was trying to hold me back."

Machain said Skylar Deleon asked him to tape the couple's eyes and mouths shut.

"They brought them upstairs from the state room and one at a time, forced them to sign the durable power of attorney and the documents indicating that they'd actually sold Skylar the boat," he said.

According to Machain, Jackie Hawks begged for their lives, telling him that they didn't want to die and that they just had a new grandchild they wanted to spend time with. She could not believe that Skylar Deleon, the same person who had brought his pregnant wife and child on the boat, would betray them in such a way.

"She was overwhelmed with what was going on," Machain said. "[Tom] was calm. … She screams at Skylar that, 'We trusted you and your wife came over. … You had your …little girl over. Why are you doing this?'"

"It looked like she was a little scared and shaking," he added.

At that time, Murphy said, Tom Hawks was trying to comfort his wife by stroking her hand while they were handcuffed on the bed with duct tape around their mouths and eyes.

Then came the most shocking part of his confession -- Machain's description of the murder.

Machain said he watched as Skylar Deleon grabbed an anchor and some rope, tied the couple to the anchor and brought them to the back of the boat.

"Then Mr. Hawk was able to lift his leg somehow and he literally tossed Skylar off his feet, knocked him on his butt … and right behind him the black guy [Kennedy] just takes a big swing at the side of his head and just, I'm pretty sure, he knocked him out." It was a final act of defiance by the powerful captain of the Well-Deserved.

Kennedy will go on trial next week on murder charges. His lawyer says the evidence will show he was not involved in the murders.

'I Don't Care About My Life'

At that point, Machain said, Deleon "just pushed them" off the side of the boat. Tied to an anchor Tom and Jackie Hawks plunged to their death in the icy cold water, drowning at sea.

Skylar Deleon chose an area of the Pacific Ocean that is particularly deep and the bodies were never recovered. He then turned the boat around and headed back to port.

Deleon told ABC News he tries to distract himself from thoughts about the deaths. He provided an apology, which the family sees as a desperate attempt to stave off the death penalty. He could not provide any examples of reluctance to commit the crime during the planning and execution phase.

"I mean it definitely comes back, it comes back to you. You just try and deal with it the best you can. … I mean, I'd like to say sorry, but what words can you say," he said. "There's no words you can say that are going to bring their family back."

Dr. Park Dietz, a noted forensic psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, reviewed excerpts from Skylar Deleon's interview, at the request of ABC News.

"His ability to smile, have fun and continue the plan, even though he sees what it is doing to them, how they are reacting, how helpless they have become, that he has broken these people down just to steal their stuff ... tells us that he is not a man capable of compassion. He might be able to fake it, he might be able to fake remorse, but it isn't there," Dietz said.

Skylar Deleon and his attorney said a childhood rife with abuse caused Skylar's murderous behavior. Skylar Deleon's father was a drug dealer and, according to Skylar Deleon and his stepmother, his father was also a tyrant who abused him physically and allowed others to sexually abuse him.

At trial, Skylar Deleon's attorney Gary Pohlson took an unusual approach. He didn't argue Skylar Deleon's guilt, only that his life be spared because of his difficult childhood.

In the interview with ABC News Deleon claimed his wife was the dominant player in the marriage, the mastermind and driving force behind the murders.

Jennifer Deleon was offered two separate deals to turn state's evidence and testify against Skylar. Instead, she went to trial in 2006 where she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, losing her children.

"But for Skylar Deleon being in her life, Jennifer Deleon never commits a single crime, not a misdemeanor, not a traffic ticket, nothing," said defense attorney, Michael Molfetta. "It wouldn't have happened. He is a very, very dangerous combination of a very, very low IQ and a very, very high malignancy."

Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy said it's just another episode of the blame game. "In reality, they're all guilty of it. Skylar and his wife are two of the worst, most lamentable human beings that I've ever come across."

The jury found Skylar Deleon guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After a protracted second phase to determine sentencing, the jury took two days to find him worthy of the death penalty.

Ryan Hawks noted the irony that his father, a probation officer, would be killed by Skylar Deleon -- a criminal who was, at the time, on probation for burglary.

"My father believed in public service. He was a civil servant all of his life and he really believed in rehabilitation of criminals," Ryan Hawks said. "The way they went was unthinkable. … I never heard of such an inhumane way to torture someone and kill such, you know, two loving individuals that did nothing wrong."

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