A jury on Tuesday found a man guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of a 28-year-old woman in west Modesto. Attorneys have said in court that the killing was motivated by racial hatred.
The jurors determined that Joseph Dixon, 38, murdered Shannon Case. Gunfire struck the Ceres woman as she sat in a parked vehicle about 1:30 a.m. April 4, 2009, near Pelton Avenue and Hammond Street in the Robertson Road Park area.
Deputy District Attorney Brad Nix told the jury that Case was murdered because she introduced the daughter of Dixon’s girlfriend to a black man.
Mark Sullivan, Dixon’s defense attorney, has argued that the racial hatred came from Dixon’s girlfriend, Madeline Lopez. He has said Lopez hated black people and had motive to kill Case.
The jury of four women and eight men deliberated for about two days before it returned with the verdict about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Dixon’s sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen ordered Dixon to return to court April 25. The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Initially, Dixon, Lopez and Desiree Mills were charged with murder in Case’s death. Lopez and Mills since have accepted plea deals to lesser charges, but they have not been sentenced.
Lopez pleaded no contest to shooting at an occupied vehicle and is expected to be sentenced to five years in prison. Mills pleaded no contest to being an accessory in Case’s death and is expected to receive a jail sentence for time already served.
Moments before a preliminary hearing in the case was about to resume in July 2010, Dixon grabbed Mills’ hair, pulled her to the floor and tried to grab her throat, according to Stanislaus County sheriff’s officials.
After the assault in the courtroom, the judge decided the defendants would be prosecuted separately.
The prosecutor has said Case was lured to the park by Mills, Case’s longtime friend. Case was in the driver’s seat of her parked Isuzu Rodeo with two men in the passenger seats as they waited for Mills.
A vehicle pulled up, and shots were fired at the Isuzu. Case was hit by gunfire in her legs, chest and head. She bled to death shortly before police arrived.
The defense attorney told the jury that the “real evidence” shows his client is not guilty, and that the prosecution’s witnesses have no credibility. He said there’s no eyewitness who spotted Dixon at the crime scene and that there is no murder weapon, fingerprints or DNA evidence linking his client to the killing.
On the witness stand, Lopez confirmed that she told an investigator she got the gun that night, saying “That way, Joe (Dixon) could take care of Chris, so he wouldn’t bother my daughter.” Chris Saini was the black man Case introduced to Lopez’s daughter at a party. The two later had a sexual encounter, according to the defense attorney.
Saini and another man were in the parked Isuzu with Case when she was shot.
Lopez testified that Dixon said, “She got what she deserved,” about Case’s shooting death. Lopez clarified that she and members of her family also said that about Case’s death.
Dixon’s attorney argued in court that Lopez and her family had the motive to shoot Case but blamed his client, who was innocent.