Clemency Granted: From a mother’s perspective

by Susan Lakes

Judy Hogan waited by the phone for two days, but the call never came. Finally, on day three, a Wednesday just a week before her son was scheduled to die, the phone rang with the news that her second-born’s life had been spared.

“Thank you Jesus,” Hogan recalls saying as she wrapped up in a big comforter.

Shawn Hawkins, 42, a man locked up and sentenced to death for crimes he maintains he did not commit, was the first death row inmate to be granted clemency by Ohio Governor John Kasich. Hawkins was moved from death row into the general prison population just days after the governor announced the decision to commute the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Hawkin’s mother and father, Charles Hogan, along with friends, extended family and anti-death penalty advocates, including members of the local group, Families That Matter, worked years gathering signatures, writing letters and giving talks in support of Shawn. Many are relieved to see that a life was spared, but some, including the Hogan’s, want more.

“Saving a life has sunk in, and now I just want to get him home,” said Charles Hogan. “It’s a step at a time with the appeal to get a new trial.”

“He’s relieved he’s going to live, but it’s different now,” said his longtime friend, Ivette Abelman. “It’s culture shock for Shawn. (He’s) been sort of on an island for 22 years, then (he) goes to a place that’s overcrowded.”

Abelman began corresponding with Hawkins from her home in The Netherlands about fifteen years ago. She took a month off work to spend time with Hawkin’s parents to support them during the recent clemency hearings and outcome.

People are not sentenced to death where Abelman lives, and she has difficulty understanding the reasoning behind executions.

“It’s barbaric,” she said. When she heard her friend would live, not die, she took a big, deep breath.

Abel can’t imagine what it would be like to face death like Hawkins did.

“When you’re sick and have pain, you can prepare,” she said. “But you can’t do that when you are healthy.”

Both Judy and Charles Hawkins are grateful the governor sided with the unanimous decision of the parole board to let their son live, but they’re not stopping with seeing him spend his life idle and locked away. They will continue the fight to have Hawkins freed by taking steps for appeals.

Throughout the two decades of wondering whether the next opportunity
to hug her son would be as he stood or lay dead in a casket was difficult, Hawkin’s parents agreed. Judy, who Shawn has always called “Mama,” said it was her son who gave her strength to carry on. He never complained, she said, and spent the decades behind bars bettering himself through coursework and activities.

She recalls him telling her to never give up, forgive people and pray for them and above all, never give up your faith in God.

“He meant it,” said Judy Hawkins. Talking with Shawn made it okay.” He’d tell her that everybody had to meet their maker, and when he meets his, he wants the sun to be shining.”