Yacht Murderer: I 'Never Really Felt Evil'

Skylar Deleon talks about the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks.

Feb. 5, 2009— -- In his first network television interview since being convicted for murder, Skylar Deleon told ABC News Senior Law and Justice correspondent Jim Avila that he was guilty and, for the Hawks family, that he's "absolutely sorry."

In October 2008, the jury voted for the death penalty for Deleon, a former child actor who murdered Tom and Jackie Hawks aboard their yacht in 2004.

Each harrowing moment of the 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, 29, told ABC News, "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.'"

An American Dream Shattered

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.

The Hawks bought a 55-foot live-aboard yacht, the Well-Deserved, a mostly wooden boat with teak decks and brass rails.

"It's not just their boat, it's their house," Ryan Hawks said. "It still smelled like my stepmom's cooking. It still had my dad's movies on VHS, favorite movies. The only difference is, it was floating and had a name."

When Matt Hawks' son arrived, new grandparents Tom and Jackie Hawks 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.

Boat Ad Connects Hawks Family With Murderer

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 baby sitter.

"I have my own profession. He's always been very supportive whether I wanted to work more hours or not," Jennifer Deleon said in an interview with "20/20" in 2005, before her arrest. "We have a lot of fun together. He's very sweet, sensitive, lots of love letters through our dating. Very sweet. He is a very good dad. They have so much fun."

Four years later, after both had been through their court trials, Skylar Deleon gave a more accurate account of their life and "fun" was not how he described it. He told ABC News that he remembers his wife being unhappy about their home, which was really just a small garage in her parents' house. With a daughter and a baby on the way, the little room was hopelessly crowded and cramped. The bathroom and kitchen were inside the parents' quarters.

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 Hawks in person, with their 2-year-old daughter in tow. Even though the 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.

Carter Ford, port captain of the Lido Isle Yacht Club, was a friend and confidante of the Hawks family. He remained skeptical about the Deleons.

"I asked him finally, 'Well, Tom, do you have a deposit?' And there was a hesitancy. And, 'Well, no, Carter. … Actually I don't,'" Ford said.

"I've bought and sold boats directly myself and you reach a point of having an understanding. … Next thing you want is have a good faith deposit that demonstrates that they're serious and they have the means to do that," Ford said. "So he had been totally, in my view, been taken in by these people -- Skylar, in particular, his wife and the whole baby presentation thing."

But the Hawks put aside any worries and headed out to sea with Skylar Deleon and two other men.

Ford never saw Tom or Jackie Hawks again.

Clues Lead to Skylar Deleon

Tricia Schutz, a close family friend who handled the 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."

Ford cruised throughout the harbor, looking for clues, and discovered a worrisome mystery. Not only was the boat tied carelessly to the dock, the green covers the Hawks normally used to protect their boat lay crumpled in a heap on the deck.

"The motor [of the dinghy] was in the water rather than being lifted out. And the tie-up was sloppy," Ford said. "Knowing Tom and Jackie and just how careful they were about things -- that immediately said to me someone else was using the boat."

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 Hawks 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.

New Evidence Emerges

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 the 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."

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 Orange County's Murphy.

Alonso Machain's Confession

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

According to Machain, the day the 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 Hawks 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 Hawks 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 the Hawks plunged to their death in the icy cold water, drowning at sea.

"Can you hold your breath and cry at the same time?" Murphy would later ask Skylar Deleon's jury when referring to Jackie Hawks.

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. Kennedy allegedly grabbed a fishing pole and a beer for the ride home.

"Skylar tells me to grab a T-shirt, start wiping things down," Machain said. "Then he tells me to go to into the restroom and grab all the medicines. … Toss it out. … I think we found $3,000. … We split it up."

Deleon told ABC News he tries to distract himself from thoughts about the Hawks' 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.

"You grow up with your dad abusing you and friends doing things to you … from the pulling hair to sticking things up my nails, sticking stuff under them … seemed like every single thing was against you," he told ABC News.

Skylar Deleon said he hadn't worried about his own welfare, or the pain he caused others. Not until he got to jail, unable to see his two children, did the murders he committed mean anything to him. Now, he says, he has discovered a sense of loss and can finally feel for his victims.

"There is nothing genuine there at all," said Dietz. "It's just a bunch of words. He is struggling to say something because he has been put on the spot. But how ridiculous is that? The notion that you have to lose something to know it is bad to kill people."

"I guess losing my kids and not being able to hold the person that I love anymore, that's what really hits me now," Skylar Deleon said. "I wish I could go back in time, you know. Give back his parents, 'cause now I realize what he's lost."

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, suffering at the hands of an abusive father.

The jury found him 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."

The Hawks had worked hard to live the good life: They were free of debt and their lives were filled with family and friends, only to have it end so coldly off the stern of their beloved dream boat, by a man one member of the jury referred to as "evil, terrible" and "unbelievably scary."