Ex-D.A. Testifies in Hawkins Case : Philibosian Says He Doesn’t Recall Offer of Immunity

Times Staff Writer

Attorneys for James Hawkins Jr. called the former district attorney of Los Angeles County as a witness Friday in an attempt to have murder charges dismissed against the son of a Watts grocer who gained national attention in 1983 for his fight against street gangs.

Robert Philibosian, the county’s top prosecutor until he was defeated by Ira Reiner in June, 1984, testified for almost an hour in the Superior Court hearing on a motion to dismiss the case against Hawkins.

The defense contends that Hawkins cannot be tried for the Sept. 11, 1983, slaying of alleged gang member Anttwon Thomas because he was granted immunity by the district attorney’s office.

Hawkins’ attorneys said their client was implicitly given immunity in exchange for his testimony at a preliminary hearing for several gang members who were tried and convicted of engaging in an attack on the home and business of Hawkins’ father, James Hawkins Sr., that followed the Thomas slaying.


Prosecutors denied that any such immunity arrangement was made.

Although the district attorney’s office initially declined to prosecute Hawkins, who said he shot and killed Thomas in self-defense, murder charges were filed against him after a defense witness in the case against the gang members testified that the shooting was unprovoked.

But the defense motion stated that the initial decision to not prosecute Hawkins “signifies that a deliberate policy decision was made to grant . . . immunity from prosecution for the death of Anttwon Thomas.”

Janis A. Rader, one of three lawyers defending Hawkins, questioned Philibosian Friday about his involvement in the case against the gang members and then in the proceedings that were initiated against Hawkins.

Philibosian testified that he had only a general recollection of both cases and that he engaged in only informal conversations with the prosecutors involved.

Rader suggested in her questioning that Philibosian had publicly stated that Hawkins would never be tried for murder as long as he was district attorney.

But the former prosecutor, now in private practice, again responded that he had no specific recollection of making that statement.

“I guess I could have, but I don’t recall that I did, and in that I’m not given to making statements of that nature, it’s highly unlikely that I said that,” said Philibosian, who is also a member of the state Board of Corrections.


Philibosian said that decisions to grant immunity were made on the management level when he was in charge of the district attorney’s office. He said he does not recall anyone asking him about dropping charges against Hawkins Jr. in exchange for his testimony against the gang members.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Harvey Giss, the prosecutor who is handling the Thomas murder case against Hawkins, said outside of court that no grant of immunity was ever offered to Hawkins in connection with the case against the gang members.