“Muscle” in Yacht Killings Convicted of Murder

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A former gang intervention worker for the city of Long Beach was convicted Thursday of two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of a couple tied to an anchor and thrown off their yacht, which they had put up for sale.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 43, was the third person to go on trial for the murders of Thomas and Jackie Hawks, who took prospective buyers out for a test run on their 55-foot trawler on Nov. 15, 2004, and were never seen again.

The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated several hours before convicting Kennedy of the two murder counts, and found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murder and murder for financial gain.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Kennedy, who prosecutors said was recruited as "muscle" in the killings. he penalty phase of his trial will begin Monday morning.

Jurors will have to decide between recommending capital punishment or life in prison without the possibility of parole for Kennedy, who has a prior strike for a 1988 attempted murder conviction.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said the mastermind of the plan to steal the yacht "Well Deserved," which was offered for sale for $465,000, was Skylar Deleon, who was convicted of the murders and faces the death penalty when he is sentenced on March 20.

Deleon's wife, Jennifer Henderson, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in October 2007 for her role in the plot.


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When Skylar Deleon and Alonso Machain, a former jailer at the Seal Beach Jail, met with the Hawkses early in November, they realized they needed help from a third person because Thomas Hawks, a retired probation officer, was a strapping, fit man who had been a wrestling champion in high school, the prosecutor said. 

Deleon turned first to another Long Beach resident, who turned down the job and suggested another man who "flaked," at which point Kennedy's name came up, the prosecutor said.

"They told him they'd pay him a lot of money if he helped commit those murders," Murphy told the jury last month. 

The plan was to introduce Kennedy as an accountant to get him aboard and to quell any suspicions, he said.

After getting Thomas Hawks below board on a pretext, Kennedy grabbed him by the throat and got him in a headlock, at which point Deleon pulled out a stun gun and kicked the 57-year-old boat owner in the face, Murphy said.

Machain subdued Jackie Hawks in another area of the boat, and for two hours as the boat headed out to sea, the 47-year-old woman begged for her life while her husband tried to calm her, according to the prosecutor, who said both victims had duct tape over their eyes and mouths.

He said the couple quickly agreed to cooperate with their attackers, and had signed over a boat ownership form as well as a power of attorney form that Deleon later told detectives he was going to use to help Tom Hawks set up a bank account in Mexico for buying property there.

While on deck, Tom Hawks fought back, kicking Deleon in the groin and almost knocking him off the boat. Kennedy punched the victim in the side of the head, and he went limp, the prosecutor said. The men then tied the couple to the anchor and threw it overboard, he said.

The three divided up $3,600 that was on the boat, and on the way back, Kennedy popped open a can of beer and fished, Murphy said.

Defense attorney Winston McKesson told jurors that his client, formerly known by the moniker "CJ" for Crazy John, had left street violence behind and was preparing to take over a ministry that helps former gang members get away from their past.

McKesson argued that Machain, the main witness against his client, did not know Kennedy's name and identified him only by picking out a photo from a police "six-pack."

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