Jeremy and Nathan Hawkins haven’t seen their father in 12 years, not since they sat on a witness stand in a West Jordan courtroom.
Children at the time, they told the jury their father had sexually abused them in the bathtub. And largely on the power of their testimony, a jury convicted David Hawkins, despite no physical evidence of the crimes. Hawkins spent years in prison.
Now, Jeremy, 25, and Nathan, 21, say they made it up. Their father never sexually abused them. They lied on the witness stand.
Caught in the middle of a contentious divorce, they were mad at their dad, upset at the way they were treated at home and how their father disciplined them. So they told a story, knowing it would put Hawkins in jail — but not realizing then the lifelong ramifications it would carry.
Along with their brother, 24-year-old Ian Hawkins, the young men have spent the past five years trying to make up for what they did all those years ago. They have tried everything from writing to the judge to pleading with prosecutors for a review. But David Hawkins stands today still convicted of child sex abuse.
(Rachel Molenda | The Salt Lake Tribune) David Hawkins is photographed at the Tribune offices in Salt Lake City on August 2, 2018. Hawkins was convicted 12 years ago of sexually assaulting two of his sons, who now say they lied about the abuse. They are trying to get his conviction vacated.
His sons, however, hope that a new effort in court might soon clear their father’s name.
In separate interviews, Hawkins and his estranged sons talked about the ordeal and the possibility that they could rekindle their shattered relationship.
“He deserves to be clean again, to have a new, clean slate in life and move forward,” Jeremy said in a recent interview. “I don’t think he should be known as a sex offender everywhere he goes. I don’t think he deserves that.”
Normal life for the Hawkins in 2006 was a family separated. The older brothers lived with their father, while Nathan and his sister lived with their mother. The two visited their father’s home on weekends.
It was on a trip with their mother’s family that year that Nathan and Jeremy made the bombshell claim that their father had molested them while they were taking baths before Sunday church services.
After Hawkins was arrested at his chiropractic office, his older sons were taken out of his home and went to live with their mother. Ian, then 12, never believed his brothers were telling the truth. They teased him when he expressed his doubts.
“They took everything away,” Ian recalled. “They took away my relationship with my dad and my dad’s side of the family. Our dog, my school, my friends, everything. But I still tried to help out and love them the best I could, because they were all I really had left.”
The sons say Hawkins wasn’t the best dad, but he wasn’t a child molester. They were often left home alone, and were, at times, spanked by their father. They had been exposed to sexual situations and pornography they accessed on their own at a young age, Jeremy and Nathan said, so they knew what to say to sound believable.
Hawkins was so sure of his innocence, he refused to take a plea deal and went to trial the following year facing three first-degree felony counts of child sodomy. It was a high stakes gamble: If he lost, he was looking at 10 years to life on each charge. Then 45 years old, it would likely have meant spending the rest of his life in prison.
Over two days that October 2007, Hawkins’ children came into the West Jordan courtroom and testified. First was Nathan, who was then 10.
Nathan still remembers how he felt when he raised his hand and swore to tell the truth, knowing he would soon accuse his father of something that never happened. “It was the most unsettling feeling.”
Nathan answered questions from attorneys. According to a trial transcript, he said: “He would get in the tub with me and touch me in places I wouldn’t want to be touched.”
Next, then-14-year-old Jeremy testified and told jurors a similar tale.
But while Nathan knew he was lying, Jeremy now says he had convinced himself that the sexual abuse had happened.
“I thought it was true,” he said recently. “I looked at the judge, I talked to the jury, and they believed me. I sounded so convincing.”
And during all this, the father had to sit quietly. But Hawkins said he wanted to stand up and yell, grab his children and ask, “Why are you saying these things?”
Hawkins watched Nathan giggle through his testimony. He remembers thinking the boy had no idea what he was saying — or how serious the accusations were.
“In my mind, I was screaming out loud, ‘This is insane. Don’t you see this circus show that’s going on?’ ” Hawkins recalled. “I wanted to call timeout.”
Ian and their sister testified that there was no sexual abuse. But the jury believed Jeremy and Nathan, and found Hawkins guilty.
After the verdict, the father hired a new lawyer who planned to challenge the outcome of his case. But prosecutors instead offered another deal to avoid a second trial. Hawkins was allowed to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree felony child sex abuse.
After being found guilty once already, Hawkins felt he had no choice. He wanted at least the chance to live a life outside of prison walls.
“I felt sleazy,” he said of taking the plea deal. “I felt dirty. But to me, it was like it’s what I got to do because I couldn’t see any other avenue.”
Hawkins was sentenced to prison, ordered to serve at least two years and possibly up to 30.
The lies didn’t stop, couldn’t stop, after Hawkins went to prison.
The sons say in therapy sessions they stuck to their story. Jeremy recalls now that he recited sexual innuendoes from the television show “South Park” while talking to a counselor.
Even Ian — the son who had maintained that his father didn’t sexually abuse them — said at one point he felt pressured to admit to something during therapy.
“They would kind of try to pry a little bit more,” he said. “Being a 12-year-old kid, you’d rather go play video games or hang out with your friends, so it got to the point where I was just worn out, [and I said], ‘I never saw anything, but maybe...’ I feel that wasn’t really the best thing to do to a 12-year-old kid who is trying to hold true to their word.”
Prisoners have to complete sex offender treatment to be considered for parole, and that treatment requires the offender to admit to their crimes. If you don’t admit, Hawkins said, you’re stuck in prison longer, your parole date pushed further and further out.
“All the system wants to hear is how bad I am,” he said, “how worthless I am, how much of a piece of junk I am, and I’ll never do it again. And if you do that, they’ll let you out. You can never recant.”
So he sat in the group therapy sessions, telling counselors and his fellow prisoners that he had touched his children inappropriately. He listened to others make similar confessions.
“I took the coward’s approach,” Hawkins said, “and told them what they wanted to hear to get out.”
But Hawkins knew in his gut that someday his sons would tell the truth — and he worried that his own admissions could harm his case in the future.
The boys did start changing their story about two years after Hawkins went to prison. They told aunts and uncles and family friends their father never abused them. They were mad at their dad then, and didn’t realize the gravity of the case.
“When you’re a kid and you say, ‘I never want to see you again for the rest of my life’ — I didn’t know," Jeremy said. "I didn’t understand anything about life. I didn’t know what life was like past middle school.”
Hawkins spent seven years locked up before his release in 2015.
His sons have made efforts to clear his name for much of that time. There was an attempt in 2013 to hire an attorney and appeal to the parole board, but it didn’t go far.
“Considering the totality of your father’s files and statements that your father has made since his incarceration,” the attorney wrote in a letter, “even with your recantations … I believe a petition to the Board of Pardons would certainly fail.”
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Three brothers are trying to get their father's conviction as a sex offender vacated. Two of the brothers (Jeremy and Nathan Hawkins) lied about being sexually abused by their dad when they were kids. Now they are in their early 20s and are trying to fix what they did 12 years ago. Ian, Jeremy, and Nathan Hawkins in Magna, Tuesday July 31, 2018.
The sons didn’t stop. They contacted the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office, the attorney general’s office — even a Utah congressman — trying to find anyone who would listen and help. Because Hawkins is out of prison, the sons’ most recent efforts have focused on getting their father’s conviction overturned. That would allow him to live a life free of parole officers and sex offender registries. Perhaps someday he could get his chiropractic license back and start his own practice again.
“It’s so serious,” Nathan said. “You can’t just let a man suffer. You’ve got to fix it, you’ve got to own up to it. You’ve got to stick with it.”
The case was reviewed last year by the district attorney’s office, according to documents obtained through a public records request — an effort that included re-interviewing the entire Hawkins’ family. The man’s daughter and former wife both told an investigator they thought the Hawkins family may be pressuring the boys to recant now, but the ex-wife added that if her sons did make up the allegations, the case should be reviewed.
A prosecutor ultimately determined in May that Hawkins’ conviction was sound.
“There is troubling information regarding family pressure being placed upon Jeremy and Nathan to presently recant their statements,” Deputy District Attorney Matthew Janzen wrote in an email. “Jeremy and Nathan’s explanation that then 13-year-old Jeremy convinced 9-year-old Nathan to allege abuse merely because he was upset with his father has greater inconsistencies than the original disclosure.”
Nathan scoffs at the idea that he and his brother have been pressured to change their stories.
“We still haven’t seen our dad,” he said. “No one is affecting us. We don’t want to lie to the district attorney’s office; that makes no sense. Why would we put ourselves in more trouble?”
Defense attorney Greg Skordas, who represented Hawkins at his trial years ago, is working on the case again and expects to file a factual innocence petition within the next few months.
If granted, Hawkins would not only have his conviction overturned, but he also would be eligible for a payout from the state for wrongfully incarcerating him. The effort would be much like having another trial over again, the attorney said.
“To me, this is an easy fix,” Skordas said. “This is wrong, but the system makes you jump through so many hoops. I am absolutely sure this man went to prison wrongfully.”
Until they get their day in court, Nathan and Jeremy have put their lives on hold. Jeremy spent the past several years living in Samoa and recently served a Mormon mission in Alaska but moved home to Utah to help with the case.
Nathan hopes to go on a mission after his father’s conviction is overturned. It would be so much better, he said, to have his father there to send him off.
While Hawkins hasn’t seen his two sons since they testified against him a dozen years ago, he has a relationship with Ian and knows of their efforts to clear his name through conversations with him.
“I never stopped loving my kids,” the father said. “I can’t tell you the pride I have in my heart for them. I’m so proud of them for doing the right thing, even if they have bad feelings or hard feelings towards me to this day. In my mind, they are real men to do this kind of thing.”
The father and sons hope to have a reunion sometime soon, but there is some hesitation. For Nathan, he worries it might affect their case if they see their father, that someone might be able to argue that their dad has influenced their decision to recant. Jeremy, on the other hand, doesn’t have as strong of a desire to see his father as his younger brother does.
“It would be good to one day talk to him and apologize to him and help him understand everything,” the eldest son said. “I just don’t have the feeling right now that I miss my father or want to see him again. I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing.”
When Hawkins thinks of seeing Jeremy and Nathan, it fills him with anxiety. But he wants to work on fixing their relationship. He knows now he could have been a better father and wants to better understand why they said what they did all those years ago.
“No matter how old somebody is, you still need a father,” Hawkins said. “And that’s what they need. And I need them, too. It’s been a long, long time. We need to move forward as a family.”