When John Fitzgerald Kennedy sat in the defendant’s seat in Judge Frank Fasel’s ninth-floor courtroom Friday morning, awaiting sentencing for killing a Newport Beach couple years earlier, no one came to his aid.
As is customary before many sentencings, the judge afforded both the victim’s and the defendant’s friends and family a chance to weigh in before he determined whether Kennedy should get life in prison without parole, or receive the ultimate punishment.
Not one person spoke up for Kennedy and pleaded for Fasel to spare his life. His lawyers could only make futile legal objections and motions to delay their client’s fate.
The only person who commented on Kennedy’s character in the courtroom was Fasel, as he explained to attorneys why he would not grant a defense motion to take the death penalty off the table.
Fasel said Kennedy had committed “cold, vicious murders,” and maintained that his part in the 2004 plot to kill Tom and Jackie Hawks at sea was more than enough to warrant a potential death sentence.
In the end, after both sides declined to speak and left it to Fasel, he sentenced Kennedy to death.
Kennedy’s friends and family in the courtroom watched on. His defense attorneys argued during the penalty phase of the trial that Kennedy would be a positive influence in prison, as they claimed he was when he worked for a Long Beach church’s youth outreach program.
In 2004, Kennedy came on as a last-minute enforcer for Skylar Deleon’s plan to subdue the Newport retirees on their yacht out at sea, force them to sign over the rights to their finances, then drown them.
Fasel entertained the idea that Kennedy originally thought he was only helping in a drug deal, not a double-murder. The fact he could agree to killing at the drop of a hat, he said, was troubling.
“Wow. Incredible...how does someone do that?” Fasel said. “That’s possibly more aggravating than Skylar Deleon.”
Deleon was sentenced to death in April, Deleon’s ex-wife, Jennifer Henderson, was sentenced to life without parole in 2007 and a third accomplice, Myron Gardner, was freed earlier this year and given credit for time served. Beyond Kennedy, only one man awaits his fate: Alonso Machain, who testified during Kennedy’s trial and is expected to get a deal from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation. Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Murphy said Machain’s plea deal will likely get him something better than life without parole.
Ryan Hawks, Tom and Jackie Hawks’ son, said there was only one word for what he felt after the sentencing: relief.
“Eventually, with this whole thing, they ended up killing themselves,” he said.
Kennedy’s defense attorney, Winston McKesson, maintained his client’s innocence and said the jury was biased from the beginning.
“This was a jury that wasn’t impartial. It was never impartial,” he said outside the courtroom. “I think it’s difficult to presume innocence in this day and age.”