Decision: State v. Dixon

June 19th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Dixon (No. 97,020). In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court affirmed Wallace Dixon’s felony murder conviction for the deaths of Dana Hudson and her 19-month old son Gabriel in a fire caused by Dixon’s ransacking of an Emporia apartment. Note: Justices Davis (now Chief Justice), Luckert and Nuss did not take part in the case. Their places were taken by Judges Richard Greene, Stephen Hill and Steve Leben.

In 2001, after quarelling with Dixon, Dixon’s girlfriend moved into an apartment. Dixon later (on a day he knew the apartment to be empty) broke in and removed several items of property. He later returned (both times with accomplices) and vandalized the apartment, in the process knocking a gas stove. Subsequently there was an explosion in the building and Dana and Gabriel Hudson who lived in another apartment were killed by fire and smoke inhalation since they could not escape. Dixon was convicted. The Kansas Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision vacated the conviction due to errors at the trial and Dixon was tried again. Again he was convicted, and brought this appeal against his convictions.

Dixon made many arguments, all of which were rejected by the Court, specifically:

  • Dixon wanted a mistrial because a prosecution expert witness changed his testimony since the first trial and the defense was not informed – Rejected, as the changes in testimony were to the details and did not alter the position of the ATF which was that the stove was damaged in the robbery and that this caused the fire.
  • Dixon wanted a mistrial because a juror saw Dixon in shackles in the hallway – Rejected, as he was not in Court in visible shackles (which the United States Supreme Court has held violates Due Process) and the trial judge cautioned the jury against inferring anything from the incident.
  • Dixon wanted instructions on lesser included offenses of manslaughter – Rejected because Kansas Law has different rules for lesser included offenses of Felony Murder and these instructions cannot just be requested by the defense.
  • Dixon argued that the judge should have instructed the jury that they all had to agree upon which predicate felony he had committed in order to support the Felony Murder conviction – Rejected, as this was not required in an alternative means case. The jury needed only to unanimously find that a particular felony was committed leading to the murder conviction, rather they each had to find that he had committed a felony, thus making the deaths felony murder.
  • Dixon argued that the jury instructions misstated the law – Rejected, as they did not.
  • Dixon argued that evidence that his mother had sought to pay off victims of the burglary in order for them not to go to the police should not have been admitted – Rejected as this evidence was well within the discretion of the Trial Judge to allow as probative and that it was not *unduly* (emphasis in the original opinion) prejudicial.
  • Cumulative error – Rejected, as there were no errors, so there was no cumulative error.

Dixon’s convictions for two counts of Felony Murder were therefore affirmed.

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