Texas woman convicted of operating on child who later died

Associated Press/March 22, 2007

Abilene — A woman was convicted of bodily injury for helping perform surgery on her neighbor's 7-year-old daughter who later died.

Callahan County jurors deliberated about five hours Wednesday before finding Rebekah Hawkins guilty of assisting in surgery on Terri Silas in 2003. Following the surgery at Hawkins' home, Terri, who had a leg infection, died at a Fort Worth hospital.

A judge will decide Hawkins' punishment. District Attorney Shane Deel said Hawkins will be sentenced in May.

Hawkins, believed to be a member of a religious sect called the House of Yahweh, faces up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 fine for the third-degree charge. Deel said Hawkins, who remains free on $50,000 bond, also is eligible for probation.

If Hawkins had been found guilty of serious bodily injury, a first-degree felony, she could have faced a maximum punishment of life in prison.

"We're pleased with the guilty verdict and glad that we're able to get some measure of justice for the child," Deel said.

The child's mother, Deziree Kay Gideon, who is also thought to be involved with the sect, pleaded guilty in October to injury to a child by criminal negligence and was sentenced to five years' probation.

The House of Yahweh, an Old Testament-based group, gained notoriety in 1996 when several hundred of its followers changed their last names to Hawkins in honor of its founder, Yisrayl Hawkins. He had changed his name from Bill after leaving the Abilene Police Department in 1977.

He founded the group, with headquarters in Abilene and a 50-acre compound in Callahan County, in 1980.

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