Melody Sue Dixon court

Melody Sue Dixon in court.

LOGAN – A judge has denied a motion by a Laurelville area woman who’s charged with helping her father cover up a murder, and who had asked the judge to dismiss the charges against her because she has been jailed too long awaiting trial.

The defense attorney for 19-year-old Melody Sue Dixon has contended that the period of time Dixon has been waiting for trial should start at her arrest in late July. In a ruling issued Tuesday, however, Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace concluded that the speedy trial clock in Dixon’s case should have been reset to zero after an initial indictment of Dixon, filed on Sept. 25, 2020, and charging her with two counts of obstructing justice, was dismissed, and a new indictment, charging her with 11 felony counts, was filed on Oct. 23, 2020.

Under Ohio law a defendant must be brought to trial within 270 days, with each day the accused is held in jail in lieu of bond counting as three days. Defense attorney Timothy P. Gleeson has argued that the delay in bringing Dixon to trial has exceeded 270 days, so she should be set free.

Dixon is facing seven counts of evidence tampering; one count of gross abuse of a corpse; two counts of obstructing justice; and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Her father, 41-year-old Michael T. Dixon, is charged with multiple felonies including two counts of murder, in connection with the death of 56-year-old James T. Whitaker of the South Bloomingville area. Melody Sue Dixon is accused of having helped her father cover up his alleged killing of Whitaker.

Defense attorney Timothy P. Gleeson had argued that because the prosecution in the case had indicated, in asking for a high bond for his client, that more serious charges against her were forthcoming, the two indictments should be seen as connected for purposes of calculating how long Dixon’s trial has been delayed.

Wallace disagreed, stating in his ruling that “the most important issue” to decide on the speedy trial question is whether the clock restarted with the second indictment. He concluded that it did, because the facts on which the second indictment was based were different from those on which the first one was based.

The events that led to Dixon’s being indicted for obstructing justice, he wrote – her allegedly lying to police investigators – took place July 25-26. But most of the charges in the second indictment, Wallace found, were based on events that took place from July 3-25, such as Dixon’s allegedly helping her father dispose of Whitaker’s body and rearrange the crime scene.

Wallace found that the two indictments can’t be based on the same facts, because some of the pertinent facts behind the second indictment were only uncovered after the first one was filed.

“This court believes that at the time of (Dixon’s) initial arrest, the state believed that Ms. Dixon had some involvement in Mr. Whitaker’s death,” the judge wrote. “However, they were unaware of exactly what that involvement was. It is obvious that further investigation was necessary to discover what Ms. Dixon allegedly did. If further investigation was necessary, then the state did not know the facts at the time of the original indictment.”

In his motion for dismissal and a later motion in support of the first, Gleeson had focused some of his attention on a delay in Dixon’s trial due to a postponement of all trials in the common pleas court due to COVID concerns. He has argued that merely because the postponement was due to the pandemic, this does not automatically mean that while the virus-related delay was in effect, Dixon’s speedy trial clock was stopped, or “tolled.”

“COVID-19, in and of itself, was not and is not a speedy trial tolling event,” Gleeson wrote in a recent supplemental motion.

Wallace addressed the COVID delay issue in his ruling, though ultimately the two-indictment question seems to have been the deciding factor.

In his Tuesday ruling, Wallace concluded that “at most, only 189 days out of 270 have passed,” so Dixon’s right to a speedy trial has not been violated. He left open the possibility that he might make an exception to this ruling for two of the counts in the second indictment, which he will dismiss if he finds that Dixon’s relevant alleged false statements to authorities were made July 25-26. Wallace said he will rule on this issue at Dixon’s trial.

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