The remainder of Justin Dixon’s life now rests with 12 jurors who must decide whether he is the enraged killer who fatally shot one man and wounded another or an innocent passenger in the car when a friend sitting beside him opened fire.
Dixon, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Michael Crawley, 61, and the wounding of Crawley’s friend, Dion Ruff. Crawley was giving Ruff a ride home the night of Nov. 15, 2012, when a van blocked them at an intersection and someone sprayed Crawley’s car with gunfire.
If convicted, Dixon faces a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Prosecutors say Dixon and two friends mistook the victims as men who had been called to the Greenville neighborhood of northwest Charlotte to do them harm.
The jury – seven whites, five blacks and equally divided among men and women – began deliberations late Monday.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Desmond McCallum said the evidence and motive in the case points toward Cedrick Mobley, the driver of the van and the last man to be seen carrying a handgun. During his earliest statements to police, Mobley insisted he was a passenger in the van – “avoiding the driver’s seat like a plague because he knew that’s where the shots came from,” McCallum said.
Mobley has pleaded guilty to two counts of firing into occupied property and will be sentenced after Dixon’s trial.
“I ask you to use your common sense,” McCallum said. “Are they saying he pleaded guilty but didn’t do it?”
McCallum reminded the jury that a forensics expert testifying for the defense challenged the prosecution’s notion that Dixon had stood in the front passenger floorboard and fired over the hood of the van. William Hensley said a bullet from that angle would not have left such a round hole in Crawley’s car.
He also reminded jurors of the inconsistencies in Ruff’s testimony – how Ruff picked Dixon out of a police photographic lineup four months after the shooting and repeatedly said that he never got a good look at his attacker.
McCallum derided the prosecution’s main assertion – that a woman with whom Dixon had argued earlier in the night had threatened to call someone to come “f---k you up” and that had led to the killing.
“Being 21 and angry with someone doesn’t provoke you into a homicidal rage,” McCallum said.
He acknowledged that Dixon was in the van, witnessed the shooting and ran when the van wrecked shortly after the incident, but argued that the prosecution had “woefully failed” in proving Dixon’s guilt. “The truth is simple. (Dixon) didn’t do it and they know who did.”
Assistant District Attorney Anna Greene told jurors that Dixon killed Crawley and wounded Ruff “over nothing. There was no good reason. But it happened nonetheless.”
At one point, she walked out among the courtroom bystanders to put her hand on Ruff’s shoulder and remind the jury that he had identified Dixon as the man who fired across the hood, down on him and Crawley.
Mobley, she said, had identified Dixon as the shooter the day after the incident – and before he had reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Under North Carolina law, Mobley could be charged with shooting into occupied property even if he was an unarmed accomplice. “There is no evidence that he fired the gun,” she said.
She also attacked the credibility of William Hensley – saying the self-proclaimed expert in trajectory had misspelled the word on his business card. The “perfectly round” hole that Hensley said proved the bullet could not have come downward from the passenger side of the van was in fact a droopy oval, which Greene proved by showing a blow-up of the hole to the courtroom.
Finally, she tore into Dixon’s own testimony, dwelling on numerous details that the defendant said he didn’t remember or hadn’t noticed, including whether anyone had been wounded in Crawley’s car.
Greene then went through each of the charges Dixon faces: assault with a deadly weapon; discharging a firearm into an occupied car; and, finally, first-degree murder.
On the first two she mocked the defendant’s claims of innocence. “Who me? Yes, you, Justin Dixon,” she said.
After the murder charge, Greene said this: “Guilty.”