Jury Rejects Death Penalty in 2 Killings
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
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
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
"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.
is a clear message to those folks in Washington that New York
juries are very reluctant to choose death over life," Mr.
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
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.
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.