DEFIANCE — Only moments after a Defiance County judge told her she would spend the rest of her life in prison, Judith Hawkey turned to her husband seated in the front row of the courtroom and flashed a cheery smile.
The 46-year-old Oakwood, Ohio, woman was convicted last month of aggravated murder in the Nov. 3, 2003, death of her previous husband, Robert Breininger, after a jury in Defiance County Common Pleas Court found she had forced Mr. Breininger’s then-10-year-old son, Corey Breininger, to shoot him in the head with a shotgun in their Mark Center home, about 13 miles west of Defiance.
“I will be back for another time because I did not do this,” a confident Hawkey told the court. “I wouldn’t have ever hurt Robert. He was my best friend.”
At the time of his death, the shooting was treated as an accident. Corey, emotionally distraught by what he’d been made to do, told sheriff’s deputies his father was showing him how to handle a gun when it discharged, and they accepted the story without further investigation.
The ruling changed from accident to homicide about a year ago after Corey, now 20, revealed the truth to a former teacher — a revelation that led to a new inquiry into the case and Hawkey’s indictment earlier this year. Defiance County Prosecutor Morris Murray said every bit of Corey's account of what occurred was backed up by the evidence in the case.
In court, Hawkey pinned the blame for Mr. Breininger’s death squarely on his son, whom she insisted she still loves.
“We were sending him to a military school,” she told the court. “He did not want to go, and he shot his father purposely and made up this whole story.”
Judge Joseph Schmenk said a jury had been convinced otherwise. Following a two-week trial, Hawkey was found guilty not only of the aggravated murder but of insurance fraud for collecting some $500,000 in life insurance proceeds. She also was convicted of four counts of endangering children for inflicting years of physical and emotional abuse on Corey, whom she legally adopted a few years before Mr. Breininger was killed.
Before sentencing her to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Judge Schmenk said he had struggled to find a legal parallel for the case.
“What it might be closest to is a murder for hire, which is a particularly egregious form of murder, but it’s worse than murder for hire,” the judge said. “If you hired a hit man — bad as that would be — this is worse.
“Twisting and manipulating a child to this end is evil beyond description,” Judge Schmenk said. “To be so cold-blooded, so calculating, and so manipulative to commit the ultimate crime by forcing a child to kill their parent defies description.”
In a shaky voice, Corey Breininger, who was not charged, addressed the court, saying Hawkey caused pain to nearly everyone she encountered.
“In my opinion, you can’t put a value on somebody’s life,” he said. “Judith, however, thought my Dad was worth his insurance policy. If I could do anything, I’d bring my Dad back.”
Mr. Murray asked for the maximum sentence because of the staggering number of lives and relationships Hawkey destroyed.
“The reality of the situation is that a little boy at age 10 was used essentially as a weapon by this defendant,” Mr. Murray said.
“The manipulation, the physical, emotional abuse of that little boy created a situation that enabled this defendant to use him really as though she had walked into that room and pulled that trigger against Mr. Breininger’s head as surely as if she had done that herself.”
He said Hawkey had personal and financial motives for doing what she did, and he noted she was at the door of Mr. Breininger’s insurance carrier within 24 hours of his death.
Worse than that, he said, she had abused her stepson — at one time telling him she would make him a girl, threatening to cut off his penis, and using a knife to cut him near his genitals. She also told him his father was dying of brain cancer.
“She was controlling over those years, overbearing, demanding, manipulative — frankly, evil,” Mr. Murray said.
“She took away from him a normal childhood and treated him in humiliating ways.”
Defense attorney Clayton Crates said Hawkey intends to appeal her conviction. He said he respected the jury’s verdict but thought “the jury got it wrong.”
He pointed out her lack of any prior criminal convictions and asked for the minimum sentence of life with an opportunity for parole after 20 years.
The court allowed Hawkey’s current husband, Gary Hawkey, to speak before imposing the life sentence. Mr. Hawkey said that after he married Hawkey, and Corey was living with them, she had not abused him.
“I love my wife with all my heart, and I will continue to fight for her,” he said.
“I would hope the court would grant her some mercy.”
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