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Husband guilty in grisly killing

Associated Press / June 11, 2011

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MEMPHIS — A father was found guilty yesterday 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 only 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.

Outside the courtroom, relatives of Gaither wept and hugged. A prosecutor said the jury clearly believed the children’s testimony.

“They were completely truthful and forthright,’’ prosecutor Jennifer Nichols said.

Defense attorney Gerald Skahan said he was surprised by the speed of the verdict. Jesse Thomas, an uncle of Hawkins’s, said he had no other choice than to accept the jury’s verdict.

“Justice has been done,’’ Thomas said.

The chief witness was Hawkins’s 15-year-old daughter. She testified that she was often sexually abused by Hawkins, who had reconciled with Gaither after he got out of prison.

The girl said she saw her father stab and strangle her mother on Feb. 9, 2008. 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.

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