During a recorded session of questioning in July 2020 by a sheriff’s deputy, murder defendant Michael T. Dixon confessed to killing the South Bloomingville area man he’s accused of murdering, 56-year-old James T. Whitaker, and claimed it happened accidentally during an altercation in which he and Whitaker struggled over a 12-gauge shotgun, and in which Dixon feared for his life and that of his adult daughter.
The defense in the case has acknowledged that Dixon was involved in Whitaker's death, but has described it as self-defense by Dixon to protect himself and his daughter. They have also acknowledged that Dixon initially withheld information from authorities about Whitaker's death, and tried to cover up the crime by destroying evidence, including by dismembering and burning Whitaker's body.
However, while Dixon claimed during the interview that he burned the weapon in the same burn pile he used to burn Whitaker’s body, a sheriff’s detective testified during Dixon’s trial Thursday that authorities later recovered the gun intact, and believe Dixon stole it and sold it.
Other items missing from the home were also allegedly recovered, including a television set.
Dixon, 41, is facing two counts of murder with gun specifications, one count of felonious assault with a gun specification, seven counts of tampering with evidence, one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, one count of gross abuse of a corpse, and one count of sexual battery. This last charge alleges that Dixon engaged in sexual conduct with his daughter Melody Sue Dixon, who is also facing felony charges in connection with the alleged cover-up of Whitaker’s death.
The video recording of the interview was among the evidence presented during the trial in Hocking County Common Pleas Court, which started Monday with jury selection.
Sheriff’s office interviews with Dixon from late July 2020 that were played Thursday included one conducted by Det. Joe Kinneer and one by Lt. Ed Downs. During the interview with Downs, Dixon said that he and his daughter had been staying with Whitaker in his cabin, and when they had come home late one night in early July 2020, Whitaker angrily told Dixon to “get the hell off the property,” and threatened to kill Dixon while holding a shotgun on him.
Dixon said in the interview that a struggle ensued between the two men, in which the gun discharged, killing Whitaker.
“Was it an accident?” Downs asks in the interview.
“Yes,” Dixon replies. “His gun went off.”
Dixon also said that when he indicated he and his daughter would gather their belongings and leave, Whitaker “said no, (Melody Sue Dixon) wasn’t leaving.” When Melody Sue Dixon came out of a bathroom at the residence, Michael Dixon claimed, Whitaker grabbed Melody Sue Dixon by the throat, and this was when he, Dixon, grabbed the shotgun.
In other parts of his statements to police, however, Dixon gave a differing account, in which his daughter was still in the bathroom when the gun went off.
Downs can be heard grilling Dixon about apparent inconsistencies in his account. Dixon tells the officer at one point that part of his reason for leaving out certain details in part of his account is that he wanted to keep his daughter out of the affair, as she had nothing to do with Whitaker’s death or his attempts to dispose of evidence.
The officers questioned Dixon during the recorded interviews about the possibility that Dixon might have been angry with Whitaker because Whitaker had been “coming on” to Melody Sue Dixon. Michael Dixon told Kinneer that Whitaker and his daughter “talked all the time, but I didn’t think nothing of it.”
Michael Dixon also told Kinneer that Whitaker had told him that he might one day commit suicide. One of the ways in which Dixon is alleged to have tried to cover up Whitaker’s murder is by fabricating a suicide note.