Man Convicted in Silicone Death
Paula McMahon, Orlando Sentinel
Mark Hawkins, 38, was found guilty Friday of third-degree murder and illegally practicing medicine by jurors in Broward Circuit Court.
His former partner, Donnie Hendrix, 34, was acquitted of the most serious charges against her in the same death. She faces up to six years in prison for the lesser charges of culpable negligence and unlicensed practice of medicine.
The two were charged with manslaughter, third-degree murder and the unlicensed practice of medicine causing serious bodily injury for the March 20, 2001, death of Vera Lawrence, 53. Two juries listened to the evidence together but deliberated and reached their verdicts separately.
"The juries had very intelligent verdicts because Hawkins was the only one witnesses saw with his hands on Vera Lawrence, but Hendrix was standing by in the bedroom while it was done," prosecutor Howard Scheinberg said.
The case provided a window on the bizarre underworld of people who undergo invasive cosmetic procedures at the hands of amateurs in hotel rooms and private homes.
A third person, Cory Williams of Miramar, who invited guests to the illegal party in her condo, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier in the case and was sentenced to probation in exchange for her testimony against Hawkins and Hendrix.
"The important thing is that these guys are put out of business," Scheinberg said. "The public and the culture involved in this pumping process needs to wake up. They are literally at risk with every injection."
Lawrence's daughter, Tangela Sears, let out a muffled "Yes" in the courtroom in Fort Lauderdale when she heard the verdict against Hawkins. She said the trial allowed her to get some answers as to how and why her mother died.
"It was not her time to die. Mark Hawkins killed my mother," Sears said.
Prosecutors said Hawkins and Hendrix operated a business injecting industrial-grade silicone into people who wanted to change their bodies. Some were women who did not like their bodies; others were men who wanted to become women.
Hendrix, who also was known as "Viva," previously worked doing makeup and styling for transgender and transvestite people who took part in beauty pageants. At the couple's South Carolina home, detectives found ledgers detailing prices of procedures: $300 for buttocks, $300 for breasts. They also found receipts for the silicone, intended for use as a cleaning product, that Hawkins bought for $8 a gallon.
Lawrence, a grandmother who worked as a secretary in Miami-Dade County government, met Hawkins and Hendrix through Williams, a family friend. She had been getting the illegal injections to enlarge her hips and buttocks for months, maybe years, but she kept it a secret.
According to witnesses, Lawrence got dozens of injections at Williams' condo on the night she died. While she was being injected, she became breathless and was unable to speak. She was declared dead shortly after arriving in the emergency room at Memorial West Regional Hospital in Pembroke Pines. An autopsy revealed that Lawrence died after silicone invaded her lungs.
Defense attorneys Eric Schwartzreich and George Reres argued that Lawrence's death was caused by the cumulative effect of years of injections.