Execution? This case is testing his faith


For those of us opposed to the death penalty, it’s best not to contemplate the alleged murders of Thomas and Jackie Hawks. If you do, the prevailing thought may be not to plead for their accused killers’ lives, but to think up exotic tortures for them.

As for me, let’s just say I won’t be taking part in any candlelight vigils if the alleged killers are sentenced to death.

In the media age, we’ve all been exposed to more murder tales than we care to remember. It’s impossible to absorb them all and not have the overall effect be to desensitize you a bit.


Then a case like the Hawkses’ comes along. I wasn’t in court the day last week when one of the five alleged conspirators testified about the couple’s last terrifying minutes of life aboard their yacht in November 2004. And after reading colleague Christine Hanley’s report, I’m glad I wasn’t.

I’ve read umpteen hundred murder stories and heard others in courtrooms, but there was something about Hanley’s unadorned reportage of this particular minute-by-minute testimony that won’t be soon forgotten. The testimony came during the trial of the wife of one of the alleged killers and was given by one of those on the boat who acknowledged he was testifying in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.

If he is to be believed, the Hawkses lived out the kind of nightmare we reserve for our rarest of morbid moments: that we have suddenly found ourselves, totally unexpectedly, in the clutches of killers.

It must have been especially unexpected for the Hawkses, who thought they were taking prospective buyers for a spin out of Newport Harbor on a bright and sunny day. Instead, according to the witness’ account, they found themselves at sea and overpowered, bound with duct tape, sometimes with the tape over their eyes, then separated temporarily as each was forced to sign over and apply their fingerprints to legal documents that the killers hoped would let them loot the couple’s accounts.

Eventually, in what we must assume was full panic, the Hawkses were brought topside.

There, the witness testified, they were tied together -- Jackie’s back against her husband’s chest -- with their hands cuffed behind them. Tom tried to console Jackie in whatever limited way he could. Then, one of the accused killers allegedly attached the couple to the anchor, prompting Tom to send him reeling backward with a powerful kick and last act of defiance. The accused killer allegedly tossed the anchor overboard as another man simultaneously pushed the Hawkses into the ocean after it.

The witness left little doubt that the Hawkses knew for some time what their fate was to be. The alleged killers didn’t even have the minimal decency to knock them out before pushing them overboard. Accordingly, the witness testified, Jackie was “shaking uncontrollably” at times. Near the end, he testified, Tom was trying to hold his wife’s hand as they were bound together.


As described, it’s as cruel a crime as you can imagine.

For the record, no one has been convicted in the killings. The case against the woman is expected to go to the jury today. The other four defendants face trials in the months ahead. Prosecutors are asking for the death penalty only against the two men who allegedly sent the couple over the side with the anchor.

I’ve written many times about my opposition to capital punishment. Those values remain in place, but while contemplating possible death sentences for this alleged crime, I find myself thinking less today of those high-minded reasons and more of the name of the Hawkses’ yacht:

Well Deserved.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at An archive of his recent columns is at