Child rape charge added, murder trial pushed back

By The Associated Press

MEMPHIS — The trial of a man charged in a Memphis dismemberment slaying has been pushed back after a child rape charge was added.

James Hawkins had been scheduled for trial in November in the February 2008 killing and dismemberment of 28-year-old Charlene Gaither in the apartment they shared.

A hearing will be held next month on whether the first-degree murder and rape charges can be tried together.

Defense lawyers also want a hearing on how the medical examiner concluded Gaither’s death was the result of homicide, The Commercial Appeal reported.

Hawkins had admitted cutting up Gaither’s body, but claims he did not kill her, according to court records.

At an earlier hearing, the couple’s 12-year-old daughter testified Hawkins stabbed and choked her mother to death, then froze her body and later made the child help dismember it, threatening to kill her if she did not.

Authorities recovered Gaither’s torso, but could not find her head, hand or feet.

Positive identification of the remains was achieved through a DNA match.

Authorities said the 33-year-old Hawkins cut up Gaither’s body and disposed of the parts in several areas of DeSoto County, Miss.

The child is the state’s chief witness against Hawkins. Her earlier testimony was video recorded, but defense attorneys have said they need access to her to ask her additional questions.

The defense claims Hawkins made no statement to police about Gaither, beyond reporting her missing two days before her torso was found.

Assistant state prosecutor Patience Branham, however, said earlier that Hawkins voluntarily told police he had disposed of the body.

Investigators said Hawkins used an electric circular saw to dismember Gaither’s body and then cleaned up the tool and took it back to the store where he bought it for a refund.

The new trial date on the murder charge is Jan. 31. Prosecutors have asked for the death penalty if Hawkins is convicted.