EXCLUSIVE: Sheriff Says Murdered 19-Year Old Nicholas Hawkins Knew His Killers, But Refuses To Discuss Motive
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A sheriff in rural Alabama is refusing to say whether authorities believe a bisexual teen was brutally murdered due to his sexual orientation.
Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood initially told The New Civil Rights Movement on Friday morning that the murder of Nicholas Hawkins "wasn't a hate crime."
But later in the interview, Underwood backtracked.
"We haven’t discussed that with anybody yet, about the motive," Underwood said in an exclusive interview. "If we lock ourselves in on something right at this point and that changes, attorneys will eat us alive on that.
"It depends on what you call a hate crime, but I can’t go into the motive, what we think the motive might have been," Underwood added. "At this time, we’re not going to go into that, because it will come out in the court process, here sometime probably in the near future. I’m not going to speculate on that right now."
Asked about Alabama's hate crimes law, Underwood said he was unsure whether it includes sexual orientation.
It does not.
Asked about the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act — which includes sexual orientation and allows the FBI to assist local agencies with hate crime investigations — Underwood said, "We handled the case ourselves."
Underwood's office has arrested six people in connection with the murder of Hawkins, whose body was found wrapped in a blanket and buried under brush and debris, three days after he disappeared. Three of the suspects are charged with murder, while the other three are charged with hindering prosecution.
Underwood said Hawkins died from a gunshot wound to the chest, but declined to say how many times he'd been shot. Underwood also said Hawkins' body showed signs of head trauma, indicating he was beaten prior to being shot.
Hawkins' older brother, Jacob Hawkins, has described his brother's murder as "a horrible, horrible death."
Hawkins knew all six of the suspects, and they were "hanging out" on the night of his murder, Underwood said.
News reports have indicated Hawkins, an aspiring cosmetologist, was on his way home from a beauty pageant Feb. 13 when he called his mother and said, "Somebody is trying to kill me," before the call cut off.
But Underwood said investigators have been unable to confirm that Hawkins ever went to the pageant.
Hawkins' body was found Feb. 16, the same day the first suspect was arrested.
A representative from the Walker County District Attorney's office couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
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