MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Memphis man was found guilty Friday of murder after his three children gave vivid testimony about how he stabbed and strangled their mother then dismembered and disposed of her body.
It took less than two hours for the jury to convict James Hawkins, 33, in the killing and dismemberment of 28-year-old Charlene Gaither on Feb. 9, 2008.
The jury next will decide if he should be sentenced to death. A sentencing hearing that began Friday afternoon will continue on Saturday.
After the guilty verdict, relatives of Gaither wept loudly and hugged each other outside the courtroom. A prosecutor said the jury clearly believed the children's testimony.
"They were completely truthful and forthright," prosecutor Jennifer Nichols said outside the courtroom.
Defense attorney Gerald Skahan said he was surprised by the speed of the verdict. Jesse Thomas, an uncle of Hawkins', said he had no other choice than to accept the jury's verdict.
"Justice has been done," Thomas said.
The chief witness against Hawkins was his 15-year-old daughter. She testified that when she was 12 she was repeatedly sexually abused by Hawkins, who had reconciled with Gaither after serving time in prison.
The girl said she saw her father stab and strangle her mother. She said Hawkins threatened her with a knife to force her to help him put the body in a freezer and later cut it up. She said she had to hold the head as Hawkins severed it.
His two sons testified that their father took them to a Kmart to buy a circular saw the day of the murder and they helped him throw away a mattress from the couple's bedroom. Hawkins later went back to the Kmart and returned the saw.
A highway crew in DeSoto County, Miss., found Gaither's headless body, which also was missing hands and feet, on the banks of the Coldwater River on Valentine's Day 2008.
Hawkins didn't testify. He pleaded guilty to dismembering the body but told police his daughter killed Gaither and he was only helping to cover it up. Defense attorneys tried to cast doubt on the testimony of the daughter, who admitted she had lied to police and child counselors in the past.
Hawkins ordered his two sons to sit in the car for three hours while he took apart the body in a bathtub. Police found blood in a bathroom and the master bedroom, where a piece of the carpet had been removed.
It was clear during the trial that the children were upset with their father. The girl told the court she hates him and the youngest son repeatedly referred to him as "the defendant."
"All the pain and all the tears, I don't really feel comfortable calling him my dad," the 13-year-old said during testimony.
The girl's claim of abuse was backed up by testimony from one brother who described seeing them in a bedroom.
Louis Irvin, the father of Charlene Gaither, said he was relieved the verdict was guilty.
"My family has been tortured and burdened for three years," Irvin said.
During the sentencing hearing Friday, jurors were shown six gruesome photos of Gaither's torso, which had dark gray wounds where the head, feet and hands were removed. They also heard for the first time about Hawkins' 17 prior convictions on aggravated robbery and aggravated assault charges.
Because of the sexual abuse allegations, The Associated Press is not identifying the children, whose last names are different from the father's.
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