Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A coroner's jury has ruled that Dorothy Dixon's death was a homicide

The following update on the case of Dorothy Dixon appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Readers might recall that Dorothy Dixon was a 29-year-old, pregnant, African American woman with an intellectual disability who died earlier this year from the injuries she had accumulated from being subjected to months of physical abuse. The details surrounding her death are utterly heartbreaking. Her unborn child was delivered stillborn during her autopsy.

Thanks to Amber for the forward.

RIP, Dorothy and child.

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - A coroner's jury ruled Wednesday that a pregnant mother's death was a homicide caused by weeks of torture with everything from a BB pistol and plunger handle to a hot glue gun and scalding water.

The six-person Madison County panel agreed with police findings that Dorothy Dixon and her unborn child were slain in January in an Alton home. Prosecutors already have charged two adults, three teenagers and a 12-year-old boy with murder.

Police have said the 29-year-old Dixon, who had a childlike mind, had been banished to the basement of the home and had little more than a thin rug and mattress on the chilly concrete floor.

Dixon, who was pregnant and had a 1-year-old boy, ate what she could forage from the refrigerator upstairs, investigators said. They said her housemates shot her with BBs and torched what few clothes she had, so she walked around naked.

When her body was found Jan. 31 in the basement, deep-tissue burns covered about one-third of her body -- her face, chest, arms and feet -- and left her severely dehydrated, police have said. Many of her wounds were infected.

Todd Ballard, an investigator with the coroner's office, testified Wednesday that authorities found Dixon's body already stiffening in death. She had been covered with towels, which investigators separately peeled away as evidence, revealing a body that was "wet and very cold to the touch," Ballard said.

Dixon, clad only in a sweater, had a body temperature of 66.4 degrees, Ballard said.

He said Dixon had scald burns on her head, shoulders and feet, as well as old injuries that X-rays later showed to be BB wounds, he said.

Jennifer Tierney, an Alton police detective, told the coroner's panel that investigators believe Dixon had been beaten severely the previous day with a plunger's wooden handle and a battery-operated dish scrubber.

In previous weeks, Tierney said, Dixon had suffered "numerous physical beatings," had scalding water thrown on her, was shot repeatedly by a BB gun and burned with a glue gun.

The coroner's jury concluded that Dixon died of an accumulation of injuries over time. Her unborn child, delivered stillborn during Dixon's autopsy, died because the mother did, the jury ruled.

Dixon's year-old boy weighed just 15 pounds when taken into state custody after his mom's death, police have said.

Investigators have put much of the blame on Michelle Riley, 35, who they said befriended Dixon but pocketed monthly Social Security checks she got because of her developmental delays. Dixon saw little, if any, of the money, police say.

Riley, Judy Woods, 43, and three teenagers, including Riley's 15-year-old daughter, are charged with first-degree murder, aggravated and heinous battery, intentional homicide of an unborn child, and unlawful restraint. Riley's 12-year-old son is charged as a juvenile.

All the adults remain jailed, while the 12-year-old boy is in juvenile custody. All have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys did not immediately return messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

None of Dixon's relatives attended Wednesday's hearing.