SANTA ANA - John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the third person to go on trial for the murders-at-sea of Tom and Jackie Hawks, was portrayed in opening statements Monday as someone who jumped at the chance to participate in the killings for money and, alternately, as a faithful church leader who can't be tied to the crime by evidence.
Kennedy, 43, of Long Beach, is accused of being aboard a yacht owned by the Hawkses on Nov. 15, 2004, when the Hawkses were tied to an anchor and thrown overboard somewhere near Catalina Island. Skylar Deleon, 29, of Long Beach, was convicted in November of directing the murders in a plot to steal the Hawks' 55-foot yacht, the Well Deserved. Deleon is facing the death penalty when he is sentenced on March 20.
Deleon's former wife, Jennifer Henderson, was convicted in 2006 of two counts of murder for her role in putting the Hawkses at ease by visiting them aboard the yacht with Deleon and their young daughter. She is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Kennedy, who they say is a long-term gang member who was hired by Deleon for his brawn to help subdue Tom Hawks, a retired probation officer and bodybuilder who was 57 years old when he was murdered.
On the morning of the murders, prosecutor Matt Murphy said, Deleon had arranged to meet another gang member in the parking lot of a Long Beach liquor store. When that man didn't show, Deleon phoned a gang contact who arranged for Kennedy to take the man's place, Murphy said.
When Kennedy arrived at the liquor store, Deleon offered him between $1 million and $2 million to take part in two murders, Murphy said. Kennedy "thought about that for about a second" before agreeing to participate, then went home and "changed into his Sunday best," Murphy said.
When Deleon and Alonso Machain, who has admitted taking part in the murders and will testify for the prosecution, arrived in Newport Beach, where the Well Deserved was moored, Deleon introduced Kennedy to the Hawkses as his accountant. Deleon was pretending interest in buying the Well Deserved, which the Hawkses wanted to sell.
Once Deleon, Machain and Kennedy were aboard, Deleon persuaded Tom Hawks to take the boat out to sea so that Deleon could dive underneath and inspect the hull in clear water. After Deleon made his dive, he asked Hawks to explain an electrical panel in the ship's bedroom.
"When Tom Hawks turned his back on John Kennedy and Skylar, the evidence is going to show" that Kennedy grabbed Hawks "by the neck" and put him in a headlock, Murphy said. Deleon then shot Hawks with a stun gun, and, when Hawks was on his knees, Deleon kicked him in the face, Murphy said. The pair handcuffed Hawks and put him on the bed, Murphy said.
Meanwhile, Machain subdued Jackie Hawks and handcuffed her.
Later, after Deleon had forced the Hawkses to sign over ownership of the yacht, the couple was duct-taped around the eyes and the mouth and tied together to an anchor. Tom Hawks managed to kick backward and strike Deleon in the groin, Murphy said. Kennedy then ran up and punched Tom Hawks in the head. Hawks "instantly went limp and started making gurgling noises," Murphy said.
After the Hawkses had been tossed overboard, Kennedy grabbed a pole and began fishing and drank a beer as the yacht returned to harbor, Murphy said.
Representing Kennedy, attorney Winston Kevin McKesson said the evidence will show that his client was not involved in the murders.
Kennedy, who was raised by a single mother, "got involved in street life initially to provide protection to his sisters," McKesson said.
Kennedy "was always the leader," McKesson said. "He didn't take orders from anybody."
Kennedy, who is black, "basically raised himself on the streets and has had no official dealings with people outside the black community at all," McKesson said.
"Every allegation that the people will present will be totally out of character for this young man," McKesson said. "It is going to be difficult to stay in touch with reality and hang on to your common sense and believe the story that Alonso Machain tells you."
The prosecution wants the jury to believe that Kennedy would "decide (he's) going to accept a job to commit murder with two people (he's) never met and who don't look like (him)," McKesson said. Machain is Mexican-American, while Deleon is white.
The jury will be left asking "why this man who has been a leader all his life is going to take orders and instructions from these two little wimpy guys?" McKesson said.
Cell phone records that the prosecution will use to place Kennedy in Newport Beach on the day of the murders have been destroyed by Verizon, McKesson said. Moreover, in 2004, cell phone towers were placed more widely apart than they are today, and the towers covered a larger area, he said. "They cannot determine with a degree of specificity where that phone call occurred," he said.
As he grew older, Kennedy became a devoted Christian and member of the North Long Beach Prayer Center who had been tapped to be the church's next pastor, McKesson said, showing the jury photographs of Kennedy teaching a class at the center and holding a copy of the New Testament.
Judge Frank F. Fasel told the seven-woman, five-man jury to return Tuesday at 9 a.m., when the prosecution is expected to present its first witnesses. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.