When it comes to generating bizarre criminal cases, we can always count on physicians to keep us “entertained”. And there happens to be a case going on in Lubbock Texas these days that offers all the trappings of a Sunday Night Mystery movie. The roles in this particular down-right, you-got-it-right, murder plot offer up several curious characters – as good movies always do: the mastermind, of course, who hires the hit-man; the killer himself, who does the actual dirty work; the poor, unaware victim, hours away from meeting his end. And then, of course, there’s the girl . . . .
You’ve seen it on screen – probably many times. But the fact that it honestly and truly happens in the Twilight Zone world of healthcare professionals might surprise some folks. It shouldn’t – if you are even a casual reader of Medical Miscreants. But it might.
On the night of July 11, 2012, an intruder broke into the home of Doctor Joseph Sonnier, who happened to be the lead pathologist at Covenant Health System in Lubbock. The masked man shot the doctor as he lay in his bed. He stabbed him multiple times in the back and between the legs too, for some strange reason. It was quick and ugly and totally horrifying. And when detectives realized that none of the doctor’s valuables had been stolen, they decided the murder had nothing to do with a robbery.
In the early steps of the investigation Sonnier’s girlfriend was interviewed for background information on the doctor, and who his enemies might be. And when the girlfriend, Richelle Shetina, blurted out that she had been recently having problems with her ex-boyfriend, investigators knew they had at least a potential motive. The former boyfriend was a well-known cosmetic surgeon, Doctor Thomas Dixon. That would make the case a bit more interesting.
Thomas Dixon MD – they soon learned – was owner and operator of a clinic in Amarillo – a two-hour drive north of Lubbock and the murder. After looking at Doctor Dixon’s photo, the cops surmised that Dixon himself was likely not physically capable of climbing into Doctor Sonnier’s window and personally shooting him in a darkened bedroom. The man was not exactly built like Spiderman. So thinking ‘coply’ like cops do, their supposition jumped logically toward the possibility of an accomplice. Wonder who he – or she – could be?
A friend of Doctor Dixon surprised the police by telling them that he knew for a fact, that a man named David Shepard had murdered Doctor Sonnier. According to the friend, who had once worked with Dixon, Shepard had told him that he was extremely depressed and even suicidal about what he had done. According to the story, Dixon the surgeon had paid him $9,000 worth of silver to kill the current boyfriend. And police knew they were onto something when they canvassed pawn shops, and learned that 3 days after the murder, Shepard had sold a silver ingot to a shop in Amarillo.
David Shepard, age 51, had previously been convicted for burglary and theft. Investigators learned that Dixon and David Shepard and arranged a meeting the day before the Sonnier murder. So four days after the murder, Doctor Thomas Dixon of Amarillo Texas and David Shepard were each handcuffed and arrested on charges of Murder and Conspiracy.
This “Did the Doctor Kill the Doctor?” murder case is practically the trial of the century for Amarillo – a love triangle involving physicians. The case has drawn TV news vans surrounding the Amarillo courthouse. David Shepard has already pleaded guilty to the killing and has been sentenced to life in prison.
Lubbock County D.A. Matt Powell announced in 2013 that the state would seek the death penalty against Doctor Dixon. But one year later, in November 2014, Dixon’s murder trial ended in a mistrial, because the jury was not able to reach a unanimous verdict. Jury foreman Doug Moore told the news media that although the case against Dixon was strong, two jurors refused to find him guilty. The foreman described these jurors as “not being very bright.”
The retrial is happening now.
Here’s another look: