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Man who fatally beat dorm roommate is sentenced

By Andy Furillo, McClatchy Newspapers –

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — They said it was “reasonable.” They said it was “fair.”

But don’t ask Gerald and Elizabeth Hawkins if the deal that sent Quran Mahammed Jones away Thursday for at least 18 years and four months represented justice.

That word pretty much fell out of their vocabulary three years ago when their son Scott, whom they described as “the gentlest soul, the sweetest person,” was beaten to death with a baseball bat by Jones, his roommate, in a Sacramento State dorm suite.

“The only justice would be if we could have our son back and he hadn’t had to suffer all the things he had suffered,” Gerald Hawkins said in a phone interview from his Santa Clara home, after the plea deal was announced in Sacramento Superior Court. “But as far as what the criminal justice system can do, I think the outcome was reasonable and fair.”

Sacramento County prosecutors and Jones’ defense attorney resolved the case Thursday with a complicated plea. Under the agreement, the two sides stipulated to Jones’ guilt on second-degree murder in the Oct. 21, 2009, beating death of Scott Gregory Hawkins, 23.

Judge Gary S. Mullen sentenced Jones to 15 years to life in prison. But he also found him to be insane at the time of the killing. Mullen ordered Jones placed in the state’s Conditional Release Program, which could keep him in a state mental hospital for life. Jones, who will start out at Napa State Hospital, will be eligible for annual hearings to determine if he’s still insane.

If he recovers, Thursday’s agreement contained a backup plan to keep Jones locked up. Besides the murder charge, he also pleaded no contest to three counts of attempted murder and three counts of brandishing a weapon.

Those charges stemmed from Jones’ confrontation with Sacramento State police who responded to the dorm attack. Mullen sentenced Jones to prison for 18 years and four months on those charges, to be served concurrently with the defendant’s commitment to the mental hospital.

Gerald Hawkins said the details of the agreement met with his family’s approval.

“We actually are, in a way, pleased with the outcome,” Hawkins said. “We did not want anyone to have to endure a trial. Today was hard enough on my wife and myself. The trial, the presentation of the evidence, the confrontation, the inevitable fact that nothing any stricter was going to come out of it than what came out today — there was a moment of slight relief that (Jones) didn’t contest what he had done.”

Hawkins said he worried a more lenient deal might have subjected another family to the horrific loss that devastated his own. “So I’m really glad he’s going to be off the streets for 16 to 18 years,” Hawkins said.

Neither Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene nor Assistant Public Defender Jeff Barbour would talk about the deal Thursday.

The District Attorney’s Office released a statement saying Jones “had been acting strangely in the days leading up to the homicide.” It said that the night before, Jones had been playing multiple songs at high volume at the same time. It said he did not sleep the night before he killed Scott Hawkins.

At 2:25 p.m. the day of the killing, university police responded to Suite 1032 at the American River Courtyard dormitory, which had just opened that fall. Witnesses who called 911 said they saw a man barricaded in the dorm suite, bashing the walls with a baseball bat, breaking furniture and hitting himself.

When the officers forced their way inside, they said they saw Jones’ tongue angling out of his mouth and his eyes “apparently focused in different directions,” the DA’s statement said. The officers said Jones charged them with a knife and that they had to shoot him to stop him.

Two court-appointed psychiatrists diagnosed Jones as “suffering from Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective disorder at the time of the homicide,” making him “legally insane,” the statement said.

Outside the American River Courtyard on Thursday, Sacramento State junior Marc Pella, 22, a criminal justice major, said he was happy to hear the case had been resolved. A dorm resident, Pella said people inside almost never talk about the beating death.

“I guess it’s a touchy subject,” Pella said. “Everyone who lives here feels like they’re in a little family.”

Campus spokeswoman Kim Nava said the deal “provides a good sense of closure,” but that the university remains saddened by the killing.

“The loss of Scott Hawkins was a tragedy that deeply affected the university community,” Nava said. “There was a profound sense of loss. But at the same time, it also brought together the university community in our grief. There was a sense of people helping other people to heal.”

Hawkins’ mother, Elizabeth, said her son “was just the gentlest soul, the sweetest person.” He went on a church mission to Chile, volunteered to work on projects on Indian reservations and helped to feed the homeless when he got to Sacramento.

“Never said a bad word,” Gerald Hawkins said. “He was one of the few people I know who had no prejudice in him toward anyone. That just increases the tragedy in all this.”

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