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Prosecutor Pursues Murder Charge For Woman Who Defended Herself From Abuser

Jacqueline Dixon shot her husband to death in Alabama, “Stand Your Ground” state, after she said he charged at her. He had a history of domestic violence.

Jacqueline Dixon in a June 21, 2018 Facebook photo.Facebook

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on July 31, police officers in Selma, Alabama, were dispatched to a residence at 2113 Church St. where they found Carl Omar Dixon, 44, lying unresponsive in the front yard. His wife Jacqueline Dixon, 38, was taken into the custody at the scene; the police said she shot her husband with a small-caliber handgun. They also said Dixon told them that she was defending herself after her husband had charged at her aggressively. Dixon was then taken into custody and charged with murder, her bond set at $100,000. The case is pending grand jury review by Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson. (Selma is the county seat.)

Dixon’s murder charge came despite the fact that she had requested an order of protection against her husband in 2016 for punching her in the face and verbally abusing her multiple times, and Dixon’s insistence that she acted in self-defense. In addition, Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” statute says that an individual is “justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself … from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person.”

But police and prosecutors rarely grant a Stand Your Ground and other justifiable homicide defenses to women, particularly Black women like Dixon, when they are defending themselves from abusers. In New Orleans, Catina Curley shot and killed her husband in 2005 after enduring physical abuse for over a decade. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro nonetheless charged Curley with second-degree murder; she was convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison. (The Louisiana Supreme Court recently granted her a new trial.) More famously, in 2012, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison for merely firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Alexander was freed in 2017 after advocates campaigned for her release. An energetic grassroots campaign led to the defeat of the prosecutor on her case, Angela Corey, who unsuccessfully prosecuted George Zimmerman, who invoked Stand Your Ground after killing Trayvon Martin in 2012. Now, groups like Survived and Punished are rallying around criminalized survivors with this demand: “Free Them All.”

The urgency of the growing national movement to support criminalized survivors stems in large part from the fact that nearly half of female homicide victims were related to intimate partner violence, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study released last year. Selma Police Chief Spencer Collier has said, “Domestic violence is a crime that knows no racial, geographic or socioeconomic boundary.” But Black women are disproportionately represented among homicide victims in this category. Groups like Survived and Punished also point out that while there are seemingly limitless resources to prosecute and jail survivors, there are few when it comes to social services that might help them. Indeed, when Baton Rouge experienced a spike in domestic violence-related homicides in 2017, one advocate who runs a 24-hour women’s shelter lamented, “If we had more beds or we had a larger unit where we could find that service to people, I know that it could save lives.”

Dixon’s attorney, Richard Rice, insisted to The Appeal that “at the time of the shooting, she did feel like her life was in danger. In that type of situation, she should have a right to defend herself and defend her family.” Rice says that Alabama’s Stand Your Ground statute could be invoked in Dixon’s case, but he cautioned that state law requires an evidentiary hearing that he describes as a trial in miniature. And communities of color, Rice notes, are not often afforded self-defense protections. Rice says that as he and his client await a grand jury’s decision, their primary concerns are finding stable housing for her children as well as counseling for the family to treat the severe trauma they experienced last month.

“It’s a tragic situation,” Jackson, the district attorney, acknowledged in an interview with The Appeal. “You hate that it ended this way; unfortunately sometimes domestic violence rises to this where somebody ends up getting killed.” But Jackson said he is nonetheless presenting a murder charge to the grand jury because “somebody got killed.” Angela J. Davis, a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law and an expert in criminal law and procedure, told The Appeal that even if Jackson “has the evidence to get that indictment, the question is whether it’s the fair and right thing to do under the circumstances.” Prosecutors have near total and unreviewable discretion and Davis says that in this case, in which the defendant is a domestic violence survivor, Jackson has the “discretion to pursue something less [than a murder charge] or even to forego charges altogether.”

As she awaits the grand jury’s decision on her case, Dixon told The Appeal that “my primary concern is my children. I hope that the justice system will work as it is supposed to here. I need to be with my children because I am all that they have.”