House of Yahweh's Hawkins sentenced to 30 years for sexual assault

A House of Yahweh elder found guilty in October of aggravated sexual assault of a child was sentenced Wednesday by a judge to 30 years in prison.

The Abilene Reporter/December 10, 2008

Yedidiyah Hawkins, 41, used a vaginal speculum - a medical instrument used by gynecologists - to perform an examination on his then 11-year-old stepdaughter in January 2005.

Hawkins told the girl that he wanted to check her for cervical cancer, though he has no medical training, testimony at the trial showed.

Lisa Thornton, a former House of Yahweh member, testified that Hawkins was worried the girl was no longer a virgin.

Aggravated sexual assault of a child is a first-degree felony, and Hawkins could have received life in prison.

The gallery of the courtroom, which seats 48, was full, and more than 10 people - not including members of the media - were forced to stand.

Other witnesses for the defense testified Wednesday during the sentencing phase that they never saw Hawkins abuse any of his 11 children. Several of the character witnesses became emotional, teary even, when pleading for leniency for Hawkins.

"We need him," Erica Hawkins, a 16-year-old member of the House of Yahweh, told 42nd District Court Judge John Weeks.

"I know and believe him to be innocent. What he's been through is more than anyone should ever have to go through. He's innocent. He would never do anything like that," former sect member Meleana Segura said.

Dressed in a standard-issue orange jumpsuit, Hawkins occasionally appeared agitated during the proceedings and was frequently jotting notes to his attorneys. One of his two Dallas-based attorneys, John Read, mispronounced Hawkins' first name more than 30 times, leading one witness to correct him.

Read was pronouncing it "Yed-uh-DYE-uh," which he said was "close enough" to the correct pronunciation of "Yeh-DID-ee-uh."

Read seemed derisive when prosecutor Shane Deel referred to Hawkins by only his last name.

"Which Hawkins are you referring to?" Read asked, adding that there were a "lot of Hawkinses around here."

Read and second defense attorney C. Tony Wright vociferously objected to Deel entering into evidence letters that Hawkins had sent to friends and family while incarcerated in the Taylor County Jail.

Jail administrator Lynn Franklin testified that all inmate correspondence is regularly inspected and photocopied by jail staff, and inmates are supposed to be aware that their mail is checked.

Read and Wright objected, alleging that the letters had been illegally seized by the jail staff. Weeks overruled the objection, and the letters were admitted. Later during closing arguments, Deel read portions of the letters. The letters showed a growing obsession with a young House of Yahweh member, whom Deel said Hawkins had chosen as his fifth bride.

"He not only abused his stepdaughter with the speculum he bought from a sex toy Web site, he's got an eye on another girl. He's got four wives, all on welfare because he doesn't support them, and he wants to add the girl," Deel said, pushing for a lengthier sentence than the minimum of five years that character witnesses and the defense wanted. "He was the only father the victim ever knew."

Wright said in his closing arguments that Hawkins is a man who turned a troubled childhood into a useful adulthood. Deel, Wright said, is trying to smear Hawkins because of his religious beliefs.

"He is capable of doing good and deserves a sentence on the low end of the guideline. A very appropriate sentence would be five to six years," Wright said.

Hawkins showed little emotion as Weeks announced the sentence. He still faces several other charges, including aggravated perjury, indecency with a child, engaging in organized criminal activity and bigamy. The cases will remain pending until Hawkins has exhausted all appeals on this case, according to the Callahan County district attorney's office, which prosecuted the case.

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