Robert Steven Hawkins not guilty in Jason Clark's stabbing death
For the first time in almost three years, Robert Steven Hawkins' movements are not being monitored by the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office.
A jury found Hawkins, 45, not guilty of murder Thursday. A deputy cut off the electronic monitor that Hawkins has worn since December 2010, and he was a free man.
The announcement of the verdict met with gasps from members of Hawkins' family and others in the courtroom. Hawkins, dressed as he has been throughout the seven-day trial in a suit jacket, a tie and slacks, turned to his family and friends sitting behind him and smiled broadly.
Hawkins stabbed Jason Everette Clark, 38, in the neck at Clark's house at 2324 Alfred Hartley Road about 5 a.m. Oct. 19, 2010. The two, who had been friends for 26 years, had been drinking heavily for about 10 hours. Hawkins maintains he stabbed Clark in self-defense after Clark threatened him with a shotgun several times throughout the night. Clark died on his kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Hawkins was allowed to post bond to get out of jail three months after he was charged but was required to wear a tracking monitor on his ankle.
Members of Clark's family declined to comment after the trial.
Hawkins' comments were brief. "I'm just happy the way things turned out," he said. "I'm just glad justice prevailed."
The jury deliberated a total of about six hours Tuesday and Thursday -- court was in recess Wednesday because the judge had a commitment that could not be changed -- before returning their verdict just before 3:30 p.m.
The verdict caught many by surprise in part because during deliberations Thursday the jurors asked Judge Nathaniel J. Poovey what sentences Hawkins could face for a conviction on either first-degree murder, second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. They also asked him to repeat the legal definition of "excessive force" and to provide transcripts of the 911 call from Clark's house -- there was no transcript of that -- and of Hawkins' interview by investigators the morning of the stabbing.
Hawkins' attorney, Jay Vannoy, said the verdict likely reflected gaps in the evidence.
"There were a lot of discrepancies in the evidence, and they did a good job with it," Vannoy said.
"At at time like this, I'm happy for my client and his family, but you still have to think about the Clark family. They lost a son, it's not easy for them, and we respect that. I'm happy for Robert Hawkins."
Asked whether he expected this verdict, Vannoy said no, but then said, "I didn't know what to expect."
"I think it was a close case. I think the fact they stayed out more than five hours shows the jury was doing its job and trying hard to follow the law and the evidence."