LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Three years after he was given two life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murder-for-hire of Covenant’s chief pathologist Dr. Joseph Sonnier, Amarillo plastic surgeon Thomas Dixon has been granted a new trial by the 7th District Court of Appeals in Amarillo.
The court issued its opinion on Thursday, Dec. 13, saying Dr. Dixon’s appeal of his conviction in the death of Sonnier has merits. In court documents, Dixon’s attorney presented 50 issues challenging his convictions. Those 50 issues are compiled into three different sections. The first being Dixon says in the court documents the evidence presented to the jury was not sufficient to support a conviction. He was indicted on two counts of capital murder. The court document says there was no evidence Dixon was present at the time of Sonnier’s murder. “In fact, undisputed alibi evidence established [Dixon] was in Amarillo at the time.”
The second issue presented to the court was a claim that cell site location information was obtained without a warrant. The State obtained a court order under the Stored Communications Act which directed AT&T to
produce the cell tower sites and locations and call detail records belonging to Dixon’s phone number. Dixon filed a pretrial motion to suppress the documents, arguing the failure to obtain a search warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court overruled the motion.
The third issue presented to the court was exclusion of the public from the courtroom. There were three occasions where the document states the court unlawfully excluded the public from his trial on three occasions. The first occasion listed is claiming bailiffs excluded a sketch artist during preliminary examination of a witness or a juror by a judge or counsel. The second allegedly took place during the testimony of a detective when tensions arose between Dixon’s counsel and the State’s attorneys. The trial court released the jury for the day and told everyone but the attorneys to leave. The third claim alleges the wife of one of appellant’s attorneys testified at the motion for new trial hearing that she, along with four or five others, was barred from the courtroom by deputies and several other people. They claimed there was sitting room only, but the woman said she could see open seats in the courtroom.
“The requirement of a public trial is for the benefit of the accused; that the public may see he is fairly dealt with and not unjustly condemned, and that the presence of interested spectators may keep his triers keenly alive to a sense of their responsibility and to the importance of their functions.” Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39, 46, 104 S. Ct. 2210, 81 L. Ed. 2d 31 (1984).
Dixon’s new attorney, Frank Sellers, issued a statement Friday afternoon:
After a long wait, we are pleased the Court of Appeals agreed Mike Dixon suffered an unfair trial. Along with his current post-conviction legal team, we look forward to fully proving his innocence to a new jury soon.
A jury unanimously convicted Amarillo doctor Thomas Dixon of murder in November 2015. Dixon was convicted of hiring David Shepard to kill Lubbock doctor Joseph Sonnier in July 2012. At the Lubbock County Courthouse it only took two hours for the jury to find Dixon guilty on two counts of capital murder.
It was later found the Sonnier and Dixon knew each other through Dixon’s ex-girlfriend, Richelle Shetina. Shortly after Dixon and Shetina ended their relationship, Shetina began to date Sonnier.
The court ruled Dixon paid his friend three bars of silver worth $3000 each to murder Covenant’s chief pathologist Joseph Sonnier in a murder-for-hire plot. The friend was identified as David Shepard. On July 11th Dr. Sonnier was found shot and stabbed to death in the garage of his Lubbock home near 21st Street and Toledo.
Shepard pleaded no contest to the charge of capital murder and was given a life without parole sentence during a plea negotiation that dismissed one of the counts against him. Because of the plea bargain, Shepard has no right to appeal.
Lubbock County District Attorney Sunshine Stanek says, “the Dixon case was reversed and remanded for a new trial. Now that it is an active, pending case, we cannot comment on it.”
There is no word on when the new trial will take place.