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Brooklyn Jury Rejects Death Penalty in 2 Killings

By William Glaberson
The New York Times

December 23, 2003

A jury in Federal District Court in Brooklyn decided yesterday to spare the life of a convicted killer and crack dealer from Flatbush. It was a reversal for the United States attorney general, John Ashcroft, who had overruled the federal prosecutors to direct that they seek execution.

The verdict in the case of Emile Dixon — a 33-year-old Jamaican immigrant whose motto, federal prosecutors said, was "snitches must die" — also raised questions about whether federal jurors in New York City were especially reluctant to vote for capital punishment.

In four capital punishment trials, including one involving charges of the terrorist bombings of American embassies, no federal jury in the city has imposed a death sentence since Congress enacted the first of a new era of federal capital punishment laws in 1988. Jurors in the Brooklyn federal court are drawn from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.

After just six hours of deliberations yesterday, the jurors in the Dixon case told Judge Raymond J. Dearie that they had been unable to reach unanimity. The forewoman read aloud an item on the verdict form, which the judge had given them. It said they knew their division meant that, by law, Mr. Dixon would be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

In the courtroom, the reaction was muted after a hard-fought trial, which had often lacked the emotional edge of many capital punishment trials.

As she left the courthouse, Sonia Thompson, the mother of one of Mr. Dixon's victims, said she was satisfied. "Either way, justice is served," she said. "He won't be on the street hurting anybody."

An aunt of Mr. Dixon, who refused to give her name, said, "He's alive, and that's our main concern."

The jurors, who were anonymous because of charges that Mr. Dixon's drug gang killed witnesses and obstructed justice, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

The United States attorney in Brooklyn, Roslynn R. Mauskopf, whose assistants prosecuted the case, issued a statement that did not comment on the jury's rejection of the death penalty for Mr. Dixon.

She noted that Mr. Dixon had been convicted of two murders, including the assassination of a witness who was working with Brooklyn prosecutors when he was killed.

"His reign of terror is now over, and he will spend the rest of his life behind bars," Ms. Mauskopf said.

But one of Mr. Dixon's defense lawyers, Ephraim Savitt, said the verdict was a rebuke to officials who insisted on seeking the death penalty.

"The verdict is a clear message to those folks in Washington that New York juries are very reluctant to choose death over life," Mr. Savitt said.

From the answers jurors gave to questions on their verdict form, it appeared that some had favored capital punishment and some insisted on a life sentence.

They found that Mr. Dixon was likely to be a danger, even in prison, but also that Mr. Dixon "grew up with risk factors not of his own making" including family and emotional problems.

The prosecutors, Jack Smith and Michael P. Beys, said during the trial that Mr. Dixon was a remorseless killer. They called his drug gang the Patio Crew after a restaurant in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the Patio, where its members often spent time.

The prosecutors said the gang prospered by threatening and killing anyone who would be testify against it.

After a monthlong trial, Mr. Dixon was convicted on Dec. 9 by the same jury of all 12 counts in a sprawling racketeering indictment that included the charges that he killed two men.

The prosecutors told the jurors it appeared he had killed others as well. They said he was the most feared member of the Patio Crew, which they said controlled the Lincoln Road area in Flatbush.

One Mr. Dixon's victims, Robert Thompson, had been cooperating with the Brooklyn district attorney's office in an attempted murder case against a member of the Patio Crew when he was shot to death in 2000. Mr. Dixon was also convicted of the 1992 killing of Alphonso Gooden, a Jamaican dockworker who was visiting Brooklyn when he was caught in a gun battle over drug turf.

Mr. Savitt, the defense lawyer, said yesterday's verdict was striking because the defense was hampered by instructions from Mr. Dixon to a lawyer during the penalty phase of the case.

Lawyers in capital cases often try to paint a vivid human picture of the defendant to win jurors' sympathies. But Mr. Dixon barred the defense lawyer who had handled most of the penalty phase, Richard W. Levitt, from calling any members of the Dixon family before the court, or delving in any detail into the story of his life.

On the verdict form, six of the jurors said one factor weighing against the death penalty was that Mr. Dixon "exhibited concern for the privacy and dignity of his family" by limiting how much of the family's private business he allowed to be aired in court.

 

 
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