Melody Sue Dixon

Melody Sue Dixon

COLUMBUS – Should the court that heard the criminal case of Melody Sue Dixon have been told more about the childhood traumas she experienced, and how the post-traumatic stress disorder she suffers from might have played a role in both her criminal behavior and her willingness to accept a plea bargain?

Dixon was sentenced earlier this year to nine years in prison for having assisted her father in his efforts to cover up his murder of a Benton Township man. The attorney now handling her appeal says that the failure by Dixon’s trial attorney to raise the issue of her PTSD in her defense is one of the factors that justifies overturning her trial outcome.

The state of Ohio disagrees. The Ohio Attorney General’s office, which handled the prosecution of Dixon’s case, maintains that Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace, who accepted Dixon’s guilty plea and sentenced her to prison, was well aware of the fact that Dixon had undergone childhood trauma including sexual abuse.

Responding to Dixon’s appeal of her conviction to Ohio’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, Ohio Assistant Attorney General Andrea K. Boyd has argued that the failure of Dixon’s trial attorney to put more emphasis on Dixon’s PTSD as part of her defense, or as part of an effort to soften her sentence, is not a valid reason to overturn her verdict or sentence.

Dixon’s appeal attorney, Alisa Turner, has responded that while Judge Wallace may have known that Dixon had a traumatic childhood, what was never raised as an issue at her trial or sentencing was whether her PTSD may have helped instigate the behavior for which she was indicted, distorted her view of her legal situation, or made her less competent to decide to accept a plea bargain.

“Knowing that PTSD and repeated childhood trauma exist is a long way from understanding how they retard capacity,” Turner writes in her latest court filing in the case. “It is not a valid strategy for defense counsel to rely upon a teenaged, mentally ill trauma victim with PTSD to figure out how those issues are relevant to her criminal culpability…”

In May, a week after her father Michael T. Dixon had been convicted of murder and other felony charges, Melody Sue Dixon, then 19, took a plea bargain.

She had been charged with having helped her father try to cover up his fatal July 2020 shooting of 56-year-old James Whitaker, at Whitaker’s cabin where he was allowing the Dixons to live. She agreed to plead guilty to three counts of evidence tampering and two counts of obstructing justice, in exchange for the prosecutor’s dropping four counts of evidence tampering, and one count each of gross abuse of a corpse and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The assignments of error that Turner has presented in her appeal brief include the claim that Dixon’s trial attorney gave her an inadequate defense by, among other things, not raising the issue of how her PTSD may have influenced her behavior and made her less capable of making a good decision on how to resolve her case.

Another point raised by Turner in the appeal brief is her claim that special prosecutor Anthony Pierson of the AG’s office committed misconduct in some of the comments he made during Dixon’s sentencing hearing.

According to Turner, Pierson improperly spoke as though Melody Sue Dixon had taken part in the killing of Whitaker; by doing so, Turner argued, the prosecutor misdirected the court to consider the murder while passing sentence, rather than to base his sentencing decision on the less serious crimes that Dixon actually pled guilty to.

Boyd of the AG’s office has contended that Pierson simply did not do what Turner says he did – Boyd claims that Pierson “did not so much as insinuate” in his comments that Melody Sue Dixon took part in Whitaker’s murder.

On the contrary, writes Turner in response – Pierson “stated exactly and directly… at least twice” that the young woman was involved with her father in killing Whitaker, and also insinuated that she had been involved in burning Whitaker’s body – another action she did not admit to in the plea bargain.

“These statements, and the arguments of the prosecutor at the sentencing hearing taken as a whole, go far beyond merely asking the trial court to consider the circumstances (of the crime),” Turner argues. “The prosecutor intentionally, methodically and successfully convinced the trial court to disregard Melody’s conduct entirely and consider the much more serious conduct of Michael Dixon in place of her conduct.”

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