Texas high court rules Dr. Dixon murder-for-hire conviction erroneously tossed out

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Image of Thomas Michael Dixon (January 2019) from Lubbock Co. Detention Center

LUBBOCK, Texas — On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and ruled that the conviction of Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon can stand.

The case is not over, because the high court is sending the case back to the Seventh Circuit in Amarillo to reconsider issues that have not yet been settled on appeal.

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Dixon was convicted of capital murder for the 2012 shooting and stabbing death of Dr. Joseph Sonnier of Lubbock. Dixon was sentenced to life in prison. At trial, prosecutors said Dixon hired David Neal Shepard to carry out the murder – motivated by a love triangle.

Shepherd pleaded guilty and is serving prison time.

On appeal, Dixon claimed that cell phone information was used without a proper warrant. He also claimed that his right to a public trial was violated because some individuals were at times not allowed inside the courtroom. The courtroom was full and the judge did order restrictions on how many people could come in.

Dixon was convicted by a jury in Lubbock.

The appeals court, in December 2018, agreed with Dixon and overturned the conviction. Dixon was allowed to post bond and get out of prison while the conviction was set aside.

Prosecutors then appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.

The Court of Appeals reversed Appellant’s conviction for two reasons: (1) because cell phone location information was improperly admitted, and (2) because the trial court deprived him of a public trial. Neither of these reasons appears to stand up to close scrutiny. In this murder-for-hire prosecution, 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 complaints, two were not preserved and the other has no merit. Consequently, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals.

In the final judgment, the high court ruled “We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to that court to address Dixon’s remaining claims that have not yet been addressed.”

As far as Dixon remaining free on bond, prosecutors can ask for his bond to be revoked but it would not automatically happen while the case goes back to the Seventh Circuit.

Related Story: Prosecutors seek to restore Dr. Dixon’s conviction

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