UPDATE: Court of Criminal Appeals to hear Dixon capital murder appeal
UPDATE (June 5, 2019)
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will hear the Lubbock County District Attorney's appeal of a court ruling overturning the capital murder convictions for Thomas Dixon. Sunshine Stanek filed her petition for discretionary review back in February. The Court of Criminal Appeals, like the US Supreme Court, can decide which cases it will hear; Stanek's appeal to reinstate Dixon's convictions for the death of Joseph Sonnier back in 2012 has gotten the court's attention.
The 7th Court of Criminal Appeals, seated in Amarillo, ruled to overturn Dixon's conviction and remand the case to a lower court in Lubbock. Its decision was based on the gathering of cell phone data and whether Dixon received a fair trial due to the public's access to a district courtroom.
See the story below for details on DA Stanek's petition for discretionary review. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled. Stanek's petition for review did not request oral arguments before the court.
Original story (Feb. 13, 2019)
District Attorney Sunshine Stanek asked the state's highest criminal court to reinstate capital murder convictions for Thomas Michael Dixon in a petition filed Wednesday.
The one-time Amarillo plastic surgeon was sentenced to life in prison without parole for hiring his business partner, David Shepard to murder Lubbock pathologist Joseph Sonnier in 2012. In December, the 7th Court of Appeals overturned the conviction due to dozens of issues laid out in the court's opinion. The two that influenced the order were regarding cell phone data and three instances where the court was closed to the public.
In the petition, prosecutors answer each partial closure. In the first instance, Stanek argues the court made accommodations for the appellants family and there was no room for a sketch artist. The artist was later allowed to sit in the jury box.
In the second instance, the petition states the court asked everyone but attorneys to leave after an argument broke out between attorneys. It claims "even though members of the public remained in the courtroom, appellant complained of the closure."
In the third "partial closure", the filing argues the courtroom was closed during closing arguments due to max capacity, but it still did not deny the appellant to his right to a public trial.
It states, ""The court of appeals did not review the evidence in a neutral light."
In regards to cell phone data, the petition states,cell phone location (CSLI) data was only a fraction of one exhibit. It goes on to explain 1,900 exhibits were admitted during the trial, the jury heard more than 16 days of testimony from more than 50 witnesses, and only one of the State's 45 witnesses testified about the cell phone data. The petition concludes the State did not emphasize the evidence to the jury, and claims volumes of "lawfully obtained text messages" show Dixon encouraged Shepard to enter Sonnier's home to commit the murder.
Former District Attorney Matt Powell accused Dixon of paying Shepard three silver bars worth about $9,000 at the time. Shepard confessed to watching Doctor Sonnier's home for weeks, then on July 11th, 2012, broke in through a window and shot and stabbed the doctor.
A jury convicted Dixon on two counts of capital murder, one for paying Shepard to kill, and the other for Sonnier's death. Since his conviction was overturned, he's since bonded out of jail awaiting further criminal proceedings.