UPDATE: Billy Hawk found guilty in 1981 murder - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

COLD CASE TRIAL

UPDATE: Billy Hawk found guilty in 1981 murder

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: A Hamilton County jury found Bill Hawk guilty of first-degree murder in the 35-year-old cold case death of Johnny Mack Salyer, whose body was found in a barrel in Lake Chickamauga in 1981.

Hawk was sentenced to life in prison for the murder.

It took the jury seven hours over the course of two days to decide Billy Hawk is guilty of murdering Johnny Mack Salyer back in 1981.
    
Channel 3 was inside the courtroom as the verdict was announced and spoke with Salyer's family about how hard the past 35 years have been.

"For 35 years we tried to stay safe," said Salyer's cousin, Jackie Jocelyn.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Investigator said potential witnesses would not talk to police in 1981, saying they were in fear for their own safety.

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The case went cold and Salyer's family said they felt their own lives were also in danger.

"So it split our whole family up," said Salyer's sister Katy Cunningham, "We were afraid to talk to anybody for fear that the drug lords would come after us, or whoever it was."

Salyer's sister and cousin said they never knew Billy Hawk, or much of Salyer's own involvement in the drug business.
    
So for more than three decades their family has been in hiding.

"I haven't seen Shaina, his daughter, for 32 years because her mother took her and went in hiding, so it split our whole family up, it destroyed our family besides killing our brother," Cunningham said.

District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said all that has changed since the newly-formed Cold Case Unit began investigating Salyer's death, leading to a conviction.

"It's what we do it for is for them and the memory of Johnny Mack," Pinkston said, "They told us very early on that they had been in fear for all those years so hopefully they can have some good memories at this point."
    
This is the first conviction to come out of the Hamilton County's Cold Case Unit.
    
Salyer's family hopes it's the first of many.

"Thank god for the cold case," Jocelyn said.

"I think this cold case idea is the greatest thing there ever was, there's so many families affected by this," said Cunningham.

Hawk's attorneys have 30 days to file an appeal.
    
The sequestered jury deliberated for several days, including Saturday, but took Sunday off. During the sequestration trial the jury stayed in a hotel without their phones or access to the news.

For the first time since last Tuesday they are now allowed to go back home and be with their families.

General Pinkston said there's about 150 unsolved cases in the county so while they're happy for the outcome of this murder case, there's still a lot of work left to be done.


PREVIOUS STORY: Court will reconvene on Monday at 9 a.m. after jurors deliberated for hours on Saturday. Jurors have been sequestered for the rest of the weekend.

Day four of the Billy Hawk trial brought closing arguments. Both the State and the Defense presented to the 12 jurors with their final points in the 35 year old cold case. The state encouraged the jurors  to remember the evidence.

READ MORE | Hawk trial to resume Saturday

"When you look at the suspect who has remained at the forefront of the investigation, that all the evidence continues to point to him over the years," said Assistant District Attorney, Lance Pope. 

The Defense argues the State brought in no eyewitnesses, making it impossible to point fingers at Billy Hawk. 

"Not one eyewitness saw this, saw Hawk kill, shoot, stuff, or dispose in anyway of Mack Salyer," said Defense Attorney, Bill Speek. 

Prosecutors say Hawk remained the main suspect from day one.

"There is one man who has a motive. There is one man who has an opportunity. There is one man with an incentive. And one man with a method," said Assistant District Attorney, Lance Pope.  

READ MORE | Hawk trial includes forensics, family and friends

Bill Speek told the jury their verdict is a life long commitment,and if they have any reasonable doubt, they can't convict him. 

"It is the only safety net between an accusation and a lifetime in prison," said Defense Attorney, Bill Speek.

District Attorney, Neal Pinkston painted this picture for the jurors before they left to deliberate. 

"The darkness of a lake at night, the darkness of inside a barrel, the darkness of a daughter for the last 35 years. One thing we know about darkness, it eventually turns to light," said District Attorney, Neal Pinkston. 

It is now a waiting game for the 62 year old's future as jurors decide if William Hawk is guilty or not guilty of First Degree Murder.

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