Featured, News

Hawkins Murder Case Dismissed Without Prejudice

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

WELCH, W.Va. – With trial scheduled to begin on Monday, April 4th, 2022, an Order of Dismissal and Release of Defendant was filed in the Circuit Court of McDowell County, West Virginia in the case of State of West Virginia vs. Pete Douglas Hawkins, on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.

Mr. Hawkins was charged with murder on May 27, 2020 and had been incarcerated since that date. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, visits to regional jail systems were limited, or not allowed at all during Mr. Hawkins incarceration.

The case was dismissed without prejudice and removed from the court’s docket due to insufficient evidence with which to prosecute at this time, according to the Order.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on May 27th, 2020, War Police Department along with McDowell County Sheriff’s Office responded to a shooting in the War area of McDowell County. Officers found a Patty Hawkins of War unresponsive. She was transported by JanCare Ambulance to Welch Hospital where she later died.

Her son, Pete Douglas Hawkins who lived at the residence was arrested and charged with Murder. At the time, he was arraigned before Magistrate Richard VanDyke.

In the Order of Dismissal, Southwestern Regional Jail was ordered to release the defendant from its custody.

Attorney Keith Flinchum representing the defendant stated that his client Pete Hawkins had advised he was innocent from the beginning. Below, Attorney Flinchum shared some of the information from this case.

In the beginning of the case, Attorney Flinchum obtained the May 27th 911 recording between Pete Hawkins and the 911 center. During the call, Mr. Hawkins advised that he was in his bedroom when he heard a gunshot from the living room. He walked into the living room and found his mother sitting in a chair with a pistol in her lap. He removed the pistol from her lap and placed the weapon in his bedroom, on a shelf.

According to the recording, Mr. Hawkins believed his mother had discharged the weapon into a wall, because there was no sign of injury to his mother. However, she was not responding appropriately to conversation. The recording further revealed that Mr. Hawkins began experiencing distress when he noted his mother was not breathing correctly. 911 advised him to place his mother on the floor and begin CPR.

According to Attorney Flinchum, within minutes the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department arrived on scene. The officer on scene, immediately inquired as to the location of the weapon. Mr. Hawkins, in his distress, erroneously informed the officer that his mother had put the weapon up. A McDowell County Deputy later located the pistol in Mr. Hawkins’ bedroom, on the shelf, exactly where Pete Hawkins had told the 911 operator he had placed the gun. When the EMT’s arrived, they discovered there was blood underneath Ms. Hawkins’ head and later discovered there was a bullet on the floor directly underneath Ms. Hawkins head.

According to Attorney Flinchum, the State’s Expert, Medical Examiner Piotr Kubiczek, M.D. of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, in Charleston performed the autopsy on Ms. Hawkins. The autopsy revealed that Mr. Hawkins suffered no damage to her teeth or gums. Additionally, it revealed there were metal fragments present in the x-rays. However, Dr. Kubiczek did not identify the location of the fragment. Dr. Kubiczek determined that Mr. Hawkins received a gunshot wound with the bullet trajectory from the back of the head and exiting out of her tongue.

Attorney Flinchum retained Dr. Ljubisa J. Dragovic, M.D., Chief Medical Examiner, Oakland County Michigan, who reported upon his examination of the State’s evidence, based upon his professional review the bullet had traveled from front (tongue) to back of neck and hit the C2 vertebrae causing the bullet to fragment in the back of the neck of the deceased, thus supporting Pete Hawkins defense, which was that Mother, Patty Hawkins, shot herself.

Attorney Flinchum then retained a second expert, Dr. Joseph W. Burke, M.D., of Pennsylvania. Dr. Burke’s, a radiological expert, was requested to give his opinion concerning Patty Hawkins x-rays. Dr. Burke viewed x-rays from Welch Hospital and x-rays from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner along with other related materials and documents obtained during the investigation. Dr. Burke determined, after review of the provided evidence, that the bullet travelled from front (tongue) to back (C-2 neck area) and he noted bone and shrapnel fragments projected from the vertebrae towards the back of the neck.

The McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney presented these contrary findings to Dr. Kubiczek, who stood firm in his original findings, said Attorney Flinchum.

“The McDowell Prosecuting Attorney requested to retain their own expert radiological opinion and retained Dr. Jason Itri, M.D., of Charlottesville, Virginia. Dr. Itri reviewed the Hawkins x-rays and additional related records and made the professional determination that it was a reasonable degree of medical probability that the bullet trajectory was from the tongue area to the back of the neck (C-2 area), supporting the findings of Dr. Dragovic and Dr. Burke,” said Flinchum. “The Prosecuting Attorney contacted Attorney Flinchum and advised of Dr. Itri’s findings and that the State would no longer be retaining Dr. Itri. Attorney Flinchum requested to retain Dr. Itri and his request was granted by the Court.”

According to Flinchum, Dr. Kubiczek continued to stand by his own findings while Hawkins declined requests to plea to voluntary manslaughter first, and again to involuntary manslaughter.

On Wednesday, March 30th, 2022, an Order of Dismissal and Release of Defendant was filed in the case. The case was dismissed without prejudice and removed from the court’s docket due to insufficient evidence with which to prosecute at this time, according to the Order.

“Dismissed without prejudice” is a term in civil and criminal law meaning that a case is dismissed for now, but the prosecutor or the petitioner is not necessarily precluded from re-filing the case at a later point.