James Hawkins Jr. stoutly declared his innocence Monday in the murder of two alleged drug dealers, personally pleading his case to the jury that will decide if he receives the death penalty.
Hawkins, 43, along with his father, a prominent Watts businessman, once was regarded as a community hero for combatting area gangs. But he was convicted Aug. 13 of the 1984 first-degree murders and robbery of alleged drug dealers Roger Grant and Larry Turner.
The jury that convicted him now must decide his fate. He previously was sentenced to 28 years in prison for manslaughter in the slaying of a young gang member.
Since taking the stand to testify on his own behalf last week, Hawkins' distinctive speaking style, a combination of flowery language and high-speed delivery, has forced Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marsha N. Revel to continually interrupt his testimony to give the court reporter and lawyers time to catch up.
The judge has also repeatedly had to instruct the jury to ignore answers that wandered into areas not covered by his lawyer's questions. Even Hawkins declaration of innocence at first was stricken from the record.
Asked by his attorney, Barry Lee Levin, to describe his relationship to one of the victims, Hawkins turned to face the jury and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, I did not kill Larry Turner or Roger Grant."
Warned by Revel to listen closely to his lawyer's questions, Hawkins was asked directly about the murders a few minutes later and, this time, the answers were on target.
"James, did you kill Roger Grant?" Levin asked.
"No, I did not kill Roger Grant," Hawkins replied.
"Did you kill Larry Turner?"
"No, I did not kill Roger Grant or Larry Turner, neither one of them did I kill. I had no knowledge . . . I had no responsibility for their deaths," Hawkins said, adding that his co-defendant Marshall Bridges, was also innocent.
Bound, Gagged Body
Bridges, 29, a convicted murderer who was on parole at the time of the slayings, awaits trial.
Turner's bound and gagged body was found at his South Los Angeles home, and Grant's was discovered on a Fontana road. Both had been shot several times.
The jury deliberated for four weeks before returning the guilty verdict against Hawkins.
When Hawkins finished his testimony Monday, he initially indicated that he would refuse to answer questions on cross-examination from the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Harvey Giss.
"I maintain I'm innocent totally and completely," Hawkins said outside the presence of the jury.
He also claimed that the entire trial had taken events "out of context."
Hawkins maintained that the entire yearlong case should be reviewed if he were to undergo cross-examination.
But later, after consulting with his client, Levin said Hawkins would answer Giss' questions, scheduled to begin today.