LOGAN – At a sentencing hearing in Hocking County Common Pleas Court Tuesday, relatives and friends of a murdered Benton Township man urged the judge hearing the case to give his murderer a harsh sentence.
Judge John T. Wallace did so, sentencing 41-year-old Michael T. Dixon to 50 years to life in prison for having fatally shot James T. Whitaker, and then having tried to cover up the crime by faking a suicide note, and dismembering and burning Whitaker’s body.
In sentencing Dixon, Wallace noted that humankind harbors “major taboos” against both the killing of other people and the mistreatment of the bodies of the dead, and that Dixon violated both of them. “This was a very serious series of crimes,” the judge said.
Dixon went on trial May 3. He was facing two counts of murder, both 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.
His trial lasted until May 11, when a jury took less than three hours of deliberation to find him guilty on all but one of the felony counts he was facing, acquitting him only of the sexual battery charge.
He was found guilty of having fatally shot the 56-year-old Whitaker in early July 2020, at Whitaker’s cabin where Dixon and his adult daughter were staying rent-free, and then of having acted to cover up the crime by destroying Whitaker’s corpse and disposing of items from the home.
On June 17, Dixon’s 19-year-old daughter, Melody Sue Dixon, who was charged with having helped him cover up Whitaker’s killing, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Earlier she had pled guilty to three counts of evidence tampering and two counts of obstructing justice.
At Tuesday’s sentencing, four of Whitaker’s adult daughters and two family friends spoke to the court.
One of the daughters called Dixon a “self-serving, unrighteous man” who “fed on my father’s loneliness,” and whose actions were “heinous and evil.” She urged Wallace to show him “no mercy.”
Another said that when her father had looked at Dixon, he had seen “what he thought was a person who needed help,” and whom he allowed to live in his home and provided for. In return, she said, Dixon “murdered him, he burned him, and he left us nothing.”
Another sat in front of Dixon and addressed comments directly to him, telling him, “You’re looking me in the eyes right now, and I can see no remorse.” Speaking for Whitaker’s 77-year-old mother, she said, “I pray God has mercy on (Dixon) and he pays for what he has done.”
A fourth stressed that because Dixon had been changed his story to authorities on successive occasions during the investigation of Whitaker’s death, the family even now cannot be sure it knows the real story of how he died.
“Mike lied and lied and lied, so we have no idea of what really happened,” she said.
Family friend and Whitaker neighbor Susan Jester excoriated Dixon, charging that he exploited the goodwill of those who tried to help him.
“You took everyone’s kindness and dumped it in the trash,” she told him. “It was worth absolutely nothing to you.”
Anthony Pierson, a special prosecutor from the Ohio Attorney General’s office who handled the case, recommended that Wallace mete out maximum, consecutive sentences on the charges of which Dixon was convicted, which he calculated would result in a total prison term of 47 years to life.
Pierson argued that all of Dixon’s actions and statements to investigators had the same motive – “for him to not get in trouble for what he did… He’s only sorry for getting caught, not for what he did.”
Defense attorney Dorian Baum – who told Wallace that he had advised Dixon not to make any statement to the court before sentencing, and that an appeal of Dixon’s conviction is in the works – suggested that a somewhat less rigorous sentence would be appropriate.
While acknowledging that the crimes of which his client were convicted were “offensive,” and apologizing to Whitaker’s family and friends for the pain they have suffered, Baum recommended that the sentences on various charges run concurrently rather than consecutively. This would have resulted in a prison term in which the maximum was still life, but the minimum was closer to 18 years (the most serious count, murder, carried an 18-years-to-life penalty).
On Wednesday Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office’s Special Prosecution Section provided the prosecutor for the case, voiced his approval of the sentencing in a news release.
“By murdering and then dismembering his victim in an attempt to evade authorities, this defendant showed a complete disregard for life – it’s fitting that he will now spend the rest of his miserable life in prison,” Yost said in the release.
The case was investigated by the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Crime Scene Unit.
Based on comments by the judge and attorneys in court Tuesday, there appears to be some technical detail of sentencing law in question, that could affect slightly the length of the minimum prison term. As of Wednesday morning the final sentencing entry had not yet been filed with the Hocking County Clerk of Courts.
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Jim Phillips is the Editor at Logan Daily News.