His sons say they lied about being sexually abused. Now a Utah father is asking a judge to find him factually innocent.

(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 admit they lied about the abuse. They are trying to get his conviction vacated.

He spent more than seven years in a prison for sexually abusing his sons — crimes he said he didn’t do.

Even his adult sons say they made up the allegations a dozen years ago that led a jury to convict him.

Now, David Hawkins is asking a judge to find him factually innocent.

Hawkins’ sons told The Salt Lake Tribune in August that they had lied on the witness stand as children because they were mad at their dad, upset at the way they were treated at home and how their father disciplined them.

Jeremy Hawkins, now 25, and Nathan Hawkins, 21, said they told the story knowing it would put their father 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. They have tried everything from writing to a judge to pleading with prosecutors for a review.

On Tuesday, David Hawkins took another step in trying to clear his name: He filed a factual innocence petition.

His attorney, Greg Skordas, said in August that if the judge grants the request, Hawkins would not only have his conviction overturned, but he would also be eligible for a payout from the state for wrongfully incarcerating him. In addition, he would be removed from the sex offender registry.

The effort would be much like having another trial — this time, with his sons testifying that they were not actually abused.

Hawkins said Thursday he has mixed emotions about the new filing. He’s relieved he has another opportunity to prove he’s innocent, but he’s only “cautiously optimistic” that it will work.

“I’m proud of the courage it took for my boys to come forward,” he said.

(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.

Hawkins hasn’t seen Jeremy or Nathan since they sat on a witness stand in a West Jordan courtroom 12 years ago and told the jury their father had sexually abused them in a bathtub.

Nathan, who was 10 years old when he testified, said Thursday that he’s happy for the chance now to tell a judge about why they lied.

“I want the truth to continue to finally come forward and that this finally gets resolved,” he said. “I know that we all want to move on and get this mess behind us.”

Skordas wrote in the petition, filed Tuesday, that the sons’ recantations qualify as “newly discovered evidence” that shows Hawkins is innocent. The attorney wrote that the children were caught in the middle of their parents' divorce, had a tumultuous relationship with their father and did not fully understand the impact of their allegations.

“They were not, in fact, sexually abused by their father in any manner,” Skordas wrote, adding that there was no physical evidence presented at trial to prove the children had been assaulted.

Though the sons had made efforts in the past to clear their father’s name, Skordas said physical evidence of their recantation did not occur until 2017, when they wrote letters to a judge saying that they lied when they were children.

No court dates have been immediately set.

One challenge David Hawkins may face in the latest petition is that he did plead guilty and admitted to the abuse in sex offender therapy in prison.

After a jury convicted him in 2007, he hired a new attorney who challenged the outcome of the case. But prosecutors then offered a plea deal to avoid a second trial. Hawkins was allowed to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree felony child sex abuse, and he was sent to prison.

Then, in prison, Hawkins says he lied and admitted to the abuse in sex offender treatment. Completing the treatment — which requires the offender to acknowledge their crimes — is mandatory to be considered for parole.

“I took the coward’s approach,” he said now of the admissions.

Though he has gotten approval from his parole officer, Hawkins still hasn’t seen the sons who accused him. He said he wants to make sure the setting is right, that a therapist is there, so the sons can talk to him about why they said what they did.

He hopes they can heal from this, he said Thursday, and move forward as a family.

Nathan said he’s still hesitant to see his dad with the petition pending, because he wants to make certain that no one would think his father is influencing his decision to recant.

“But the future looks bright,” he said Thursday. “I feel good about everything, and I know that this will get fixed.”