Witness in Skylar Deleon trial describes slayings

Times Staff Writer

With his hands bound behind his back and eyes covered in tape, Tom Hawks seemed to realize that certain death awaited him and his wife, Jackie, if he didn’t act quickly. So he mustered all the force he could and delivered a blow with his foot that sent one of his three attackers reeling into a deck chair.

It would be the last act of heroism for a man who made a living in law enforcement.

Within moments, an anchor was dragging the Arizona couple into the ocean.


“They were basically yanked -- yanked into the ocean,” Alonso Machain testified in an Orange County courtroom Wednesday as he vividly reconstructed what happened to the Hawkses in the final frantic moments aboard their 55-foot yacht, Well-Deserved.

Machain, 25, is the government’s main witness in the murder trial of Skylar Deleon, who is accused of orchestrating the plot to kill the Hawkses by pretending to be interested in buying their yacht.

Deleon planned to steal the yacht and plunder the Hawkses’ bank accounts, prosecutors charge.

The couple spent nearly two years plying the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean, fishing and diving, kayaking and surfing, and cruising from port to port. Eventually, they decided to sell the boat so they could be closer to their first grandchild in Arizona. They were last seen leaving the Newport Harbor on their yacht Nov. 15, 2004.

Deleon’s attorney, Gary Pohlson, acknowledged in opening statements that Deleon is guilty in the murders, but maintained that he is no more culpable than others who were also charged in the case, including Machain and Deleon’s wife, Jennifer.

Pohlson’s goal is to save his client from the death penalty. Jennifer was given consecutive life terms in an earlier trial and Machain has not been tried. Machain, appearing nervous and uncomfortable, explained that he became friends with Skylar Deleon at Seal Beach City Jail, where he was working as a jailer and Deleon was in a work furlough program for a home burglary.

In October 2004, Machain said, Skylar Deleon asked him if he was interested in making about $1 million.

Unemployed by that time, Machain said he asked if what they were going to do was legal and Deleon responded: “It isn’t illegal unless you get caught.”

Machain said Deleon told him he was routinely solicited to carry out murders. He said he agreed to go along after Deleon persuaded him that the Hawkses were bad people.

On the morning of Nov. 15, Machain said, he and Deleon met up with a third person -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- before heading to the boat, stopping first so Kennedy, a reputed gang member, could change clothes and pretend to be Deleon’s accountant. They had persuaded the Hawkses that they were interested buyers.

Once aboard the boat, Machain said, he cornered Jackie Hawks in the galley of the main cabin while Deleon and Kennedy overpowered Tom Hawks in a lower stateroom.

Machain said that after a brief struggle, he handcuffed Jackie Hawks and took her down to the bedroom, where she and her husband were placed back to back on the bed.

She was crying, begging for her life, and at one point asked Deleon, “How could you do this to us? You brought your wife and kids on board. We trusted you,” Machain testified.

Machain said he helped Deleon cover the couple’s eyes and mouths with duct tape. The Hawkses, he said, were then taken up to the main cabin one at a time to sign and fingerprint title transfer documents for the boat, and were reassured that if they cooperated they would be released.

Left to “baby-sit” the couple for hours before and after they signed the documents, Machain said he watched as Tom Hawks reached over and caressed his sobbing wife, trying to console her.

As they pulled out of Newport Harbor and headed out to sea, Deleon and Kennedy prepared the anchor, Machain said.

On deck, Deleon and Kennedy began lashing the couple to the anchor, her back to her husband’s chest with their hands still bound behind them and their eyes and mouths covered in duct tape, Machain said.

That’s when Tom Hawks kicked in a backward motion, striking Deleon with such force that “he literally flew back and landed on the chair on the deck,” Machain testified.

Machain said that after Kennedy responded with a “vicious” punch to Tom Hawks’ right temple, Deleon and Kennedy pushed the anchor into the ocean.

He said Kennedy fished all the way back to Newport Beach.