TX High Court: Dixon conviction erroneously overturned

TX High Court: Dixon conviction erroneously overturned

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LUBBOCK -

The state's highest appeals court has reversed a ruling from a lower appeals court regarding the conviction of Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon in the murder-for-hire plot that killed Lubbock pathologist Dr. Joseph Sonnier in 2012.

But this does not yet mean Dixon's conviction and sentence are yet reinstated.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin has sent other issues, not addressed in this ruling, back to the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo for it to review.

In July Lubbock County District Attorney Sunshine Stanek argued the Seventh Court was not neutral when it overturned Dixon's capital murder convictions in 2018. She argued the appeals court gave "total deference" to Dixon's claims. In January 2019 Dixon was released on a $2 million bond.

After the first trial in this case ended in mistrial, Dixon, a former Amarillo plastic surgeon, was convicted in 2015 of paying a man to murder a romantic rival, Dr. Sonnier. Dixon was sentenced to life without parole.

The Seventh Court reversed his convictions in the fall of 2018, finding District Judge Jim Bob Darnell violated Dixon's right to a public trial and the prosecution used illegally gathered court evidence.

In the new ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Judge Keller wrote both the cell phone location information and right to a public trial issues do not stand up to close scrutiny. From the opinion:

"Appellant's whereabouts on a date other than the date of the murder were not particularly important to the case, so any error in admitting the evidence was harmless. As for the public trial complains, two were not preserved and the other has no merit."

Here is the opinion:

 

 

Stanek's brief, filed last summer, argued Dixon's claims were not viable, because he did not make them soon enough. She claimed Dixon did not give the trial court a chance to remedy any problem, and Lubbock County had no bigger courtroom in which to try Dixon.

As for cell phone location information, Stanek argued the Seventh Court over-stated the importance of this data. The Supreme Court found gathering this kind of data without a warrant is illegal; its ruling came after Dixon's conviction.

 

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