Appeals court upholds Dixon’s life sentence
Amarillo Court of Appeals judges upheld Thomas Michael Dixon’s conviction and life sentence on Thursday after dismissing the remaining 49 counts of his direct appeal.
Dixon can appeal the decision to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court. If that appeal fails, he also has the option of taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On November 18, 2015, a Lubbock jury convicted Dixon, a once prominent Amarillo plastic surgeon, of two counts of capital murder on the July 10, 2012 shooting death of Dr. Joseph Sonnier, chief pathologist at Covenant Medical Center. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said Dixon paid three, 100 oz. silver bars and two Cuban cigars to his business partner, David Neal Shepard, to kill Sonnier, who was dating Dixon’s ex-girlfriend at the time.
Shepard pleaded guilty to his role as Sonnier’s killer and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
After his sentencing, Dixon filed an appeal citing 50 cases that his lawyers considered violated his right to a fair trial.
Judges of the Seventh District of Texas Court of Appeals initially overturned Dixon’s conviction in 2018, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling after his trial that retroactively ruled inadmissible tower location data. cell phone if obtained without a warrant.
During Dixon’s trials in 2014 and 2015, prosecutors used Dixon’s cellphone tower location data to show he was with his co-defendant, Shepard, in Lubbock while stalking Sonnier weeks before. the murder. The 2014 trial ended in a hung jury.
The Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office appealed the decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, saying the cell tower data did not materially impact their case against Dixon because it was clear that Dixon was not with Shepard during the shooting.
Instead, they relied on legally obtained text messages between the pair to show jurors their plot to murder Sonnier.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in favor of the state and restored Dixon’s conviction and life sentence. Dixon’s attorneys appealed that decision to the justices of the United States Supreme Court, who declined to hear the case.
Meanwhile, the Seventh Court of Appeals was set to rule on the remaining grounds of Dixon’s original appeal, which involved complaints that the trial court allowed hearsay statements and denied Dixon a hearing. include in his defense video evidence that would show Shepard saying he acted alone.
During the 2014 trial, prosecutors called Shepard as a witness, after he pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder, admitting he was paid by Dixon to kill Sonnier. However, at trial, Shepard surprised prosecutors when he told jurors he acted alone.
The judges found that the trial court did not err in excluding the video evidence because Shepard, who had not been called to the stand during the 2015 trial, was in the detention center of the Lubbock County on an arrest warrant as a possible witness in the case.
“The Appellant’s decision not to obtain the testimony of an unpredictable witness may reflect his difficult trial dilemma, although not uncommon, but militates against an argument that he was not permitted to present such evidence. due to the decision of the trial judge,” states the opinion, written by Justice Lawrence M. Doss.
The judges also found that the hearsay evidence raised by Dixon in his appeal was permitted under Texas rules of evidence.
However, the final opinion of the Seventh Court of Appeals ruled on a ground in favor of Dixon and acquitted him of the second count of capital murder, making him criminally liable for the acts of murder. of Shepard during a crime, namely the burglary.
“Dixon’s two convictions for Sonnier’s murder breach his double jeopardy protections of being convicted twice of the same offence,” the opinion read.