The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Amarillo ordered that doctor Thomas Michael Dixon will get a new trial — finding the judgment of the trial court in Lubbock should be reversed. The ruling is still subject to review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.
Dixon was found guilty of capital murder for the July 2012 shooting and stabbing death of a Lubbock doctor, Joseph Sonnier.
David Shephard told police that he was paid by Dixon to commit the murder.
Documents filed in the Seventh Court of Criminal Appeals addressed several issues. The two that mattered were the lack of a search warrant for cell phone records and three times when the trial was closed or partially closed to the public.
Dixon’s attorneys on appeal argued that information from his cell phone was taken without a warrant. The prosecutors responded in the appeals process by admitting, yes, the records were taken without a warrant, but instead they were obtained by a court order under the Stored Communications Act.
“… The issuing magistrate found … a ‘reasonable belief’ that the information sought was ‘relevant to a legitimate law enforcement inquiry,”” the appeals court said.
However, in a 2018 decision from the United States Supreme Court, Carpenter v. United States, the ruling said law enforcement officers must generally obtain a warrant for “cell site location information.”
An order from a magistrate was not enough, the appeals court in Texas said.
Even though the trial was in 2015, and the supreme court’s Carpenter case was in 2018, the appeals court said it involves constitutional rights and must be applied retroactively.
That alone, would have been enough for the appeals court to issue a new trial. But the ruling also said the trial court in Lubbock failed to justify partially excluding people from witnessing the trial.
“We must find appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated,” the appeals court said.
Although the office of Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney had no comment, former D.A. Matt Powell said the 7th Circuit ruling would be further appealed.
EverythingLubbock.com is also reaching out to Dixon’s attorneys. Updates will be provided when possible.
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Related Story: Verdict Reached in Dr. Dixon Capital Murder Trial
(Myhighplains.com contributed to this report.)