A jury returned a guilty verdict Friday for James Hawkins in the 2008 death and dismemberment of his estranged girlfriend Charlene Gaither.
Hawkins was found guilty of First Degree Murder, Filing a False Report and Abuse of a Corpse. He faces life in prison, life in prison without parole or the death penalty. It took a jury of seven women and five men just under two hours to deliver their verdict.
While Hawkins maintained his then 12-year old daughter with the victim committed the murder, prosecutors convinced the jury through police testimony, forensics experts and the daughter's own account that Hawkins stabbed and strangled Gaither, then forced their daughter to help cut up and dispose of the body.
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. Hawkins didn't testify.
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.
Outside the courtroom, relatives of Gaither wept loudly and hugged each other. 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.
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.
After a recess, the sentencing phase of the trial resumed Friday afternoon. Gaither's sister took the stand, but became too emotional to continue her testimony.
During the murder trial, the daughter also testified that when she was 12 she was repeatedly sexually abused by Hawkins, who had reconciled with Gaither after serving time in prison. James Hawkins is still facing trial for the child rape charges.