Account of pair’s fate at sea chills courtroom
Thomas and Jackie Hawks fought their alleged captors to the bitter end and in a moment of tenderness managed to hold hands before an anchor dragged them to the bottom of the sea.
Family and friends of the couple were brought to tears Wednesday when a prosecution witness gave an excruciating, minute-by-minute account of events aboard their 55-foot yacht, Well Deserved, during the Santa Ana murder trial of Jennifer L. Deleon.
Deleon, 25, a Long Beach mother of two, is accused of helping her husband, Skylar, and three other men in a plot to murder the Hawkses, steal their yacht and plunder their savings. If convicted, she could get life in prison without parole. Skylar Deleon, the alleged mastermind, goes on trial in January.
Jennifer Deleon was not on board when the Hawkses were presumably killed -- their bodies haven’t been found. But prosecutors say she used her 9-month-old child to gain the couple’s trust and later helped destroy evidence by cleaning the boat. They reject her defense that she didn’t know what her husband was up to until after the alleged murders, then followed his lead only because she was afraid of him.
On Wednesday, Alonso Machain, who was on the boat with the couple the day they disappeared, provided the first eyewitness account of the alleged crimes, acknowledging that he was hoping for leniency in exchange for his testimony.
Machain, who is rail-thin and looks much younger than his 23 years, testified that he met Skylar Deleon at Seal Beach City Jail, when he was working as a jailer and Deleon was in a work furlough program for committing home burglary. Machain said Deleon, during his jail stay, convinced him that he was rich, earning more than $2 million a month and traveling the world. Machain said he grew to respect and admire Deleon, and the two became good friends.
In October 2004, Machain said, Skylar Deleon asked him whether he’d like to make a “few million dollars.” At the time, Machain was unemployed. When Machain asked how he could make that much money legally, Deleon responded that “it isn’t illegal unless you get caught,” Machain said. He said Deleon told him he was routinely solicited to carry out murders, which he did “on the side.”
Deleon told him the Hawkses “were bad” and it would “make the world a better place if they were taken out,” Machain said. After the couple were killed, he allegedly told Machain, they would get to keep their boat and anything else they owned.
Machain said Deleon accompanied him to the Lakewood Mall, where they bought two stun guns, and Machain went alone to another store to buy two pairs of handcuffs. On a test-sail with the Hawkses on Nov. 6, 2004, Machain was to have overpowered Jackie Hawks while Deleon subdued her husband. But Machain said Deleon abandoned the plan once they were all on the boat, for unknown reasons. It was during that outing that Machain said Deleon first learned that Thomas Hawks was a retired probation officer “very physically fit for his age.”
Back at the docks, Machain said, Deleon called his wife and told her she had to come down to the boat to meet the Hawkses and make them “feel more at ease.” Within the next week he also decided that a third person would be needed to help overcome Thomas Hawks.
On the morning of Nov. 15, Machain said, he and Deleon met up with that person -- whose name, he later learned, was John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- before returning to the pier. Once they were headed out to sea, he said, Jackie Hawks called someone to report that she and her husband were with the buyers.
Machain said he was standing in the kitchen of the main cabin when Deleon and Kennedy overpowered Thomas Hawks in a lower area of the boat near a bedroom. The commotion caused Jackie Hawks to try to move past Machain, he said, and she screamed, “What’s going on?”
With Jackie Hawks cornered in the kitchen, Machain said, he pulled out his stun gun. “I knew I had to act. I had to overpower Mrs. Hawks. I struggled with her. She was fighting me.”
Eventually he got her handcuffed, he said, and took her down to the bedroom, where her husband was already handcuffed on the bed. That’s when she asked Deleon, “How could you do this to us? You brought your wife and kids here. We trusted you.”
Machain helped Deleon cover the couple’s eyes and mouths with duct tape as Jackie Hawks cried, saying she didn’t want to die and that she wanted to see her new grandchild. The Hawkses were then taken up to the main cabin one at a time to sign and fingerprint title transfer documents. Jackie Hawks was told that if she cooperated she would be released. “She was shaking uncontrollably,” Machain recalled. When it was her husband’s turn, Deleon told him that if he tried anything funny he would be struck with a Magnum flashlight. Thomas Hawks responded that he wouldn’t try anything, according to Machain.
The couple were brought back to the bedroom while Deleon and Kennedy prepared the anchor on the aft deck, Machain said. Left to “baby-sit” them, he watched as Thomas Hawks tried to console his wife.
She was still crying and asking, in a muffled voice through the tape, why their captors were doing this to them.
“I could see Mr. Hawks trying to reach over and hold her hand and comfort her,” Machain said.
On the deck, the couple were tied together standing, her back to her husband’s chest with their hands still cuffed behind them.
Realizing what was happening, Thomas Hawks kicked Deleon as he tried to fasten the couple to the anchor, sending him back into a deck chair, Machain said.
Kennedy responded with a “hard swing” to the husband’s right temple. “It was a pretty hard blow” that left him staggering and making “slurring noises,” Machain said.
He would have fallen to his knees but “Mrs. Hawks was holding him up,” all the time “screaming, yelling, asking, ‘What’s going on?’ ” he recalled.
Deleon lifted the anchor and threw it overboard as Kennedy pushed the couple overboard, Machain said.
Deleon then turned the yacht around and the men collected cash, jewelry and other valuables, Machain said. Kennedy cracked open a beer, grabbed a fishing rod and fished all the way back to the harbor, he said.