He was 10 when his 12-year-old sister died in a house fire just days before Christmas. Dad succumbed to AIDS less than three years later. Mom sank into a depression and turned to crack.
This was the childhood of convicted murderer LaFonse Dixon Jr.
Hoping to spare their client’s life yesterday during the sentencing phase of his death-penalty trial, defense attorneys painted Dixon’s upbringing as a troubled one, the story of a boy staggering beneath the weight of an adult’s responsibilities.
In the end, a jury chose life for Dixon.
After 5 1/2 hours of deliberation, 12 jurors recommended that Dixon, 34, of Canton, receive life without parole for his role in the burning death of Celeste Fronsman. Muskingum County Common Pleas Judge Kelly Cottrill is set to sentence Dixon on Nov. 4.
Last week, that same jury found Dixon guilty of aggravated murder, aggravated arson and kidnapping.
Prosecutors said that in August 2012, Dixon and two women drove Fronsman from Canton to Muskingum County, where they beat her, choked her and set her on fire as punishment for snitching. She survived for two days after a motorist found her on Rt. 208 near Zanesville, charred over 70 percent of her body.
Fronsman knew her attackers. The 29-year-old was a prostitute and crack addict on the streets of Canton, where Dixon sold drugs.
His co-defendants, Katrina Culberson, 22, and Monica Washington, 25, were prostitutes and drug users as well. The women pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated arson and kidnapping in exchange for their lives and their testimony against Dixon two weeks ago.
He was the only one facing the death penalty.
Throughout most of his trial, Dixon sat quietly, his broad shoulders slightly hunched, his long dreadlocks pulled back into a neat ponytail. He rose yesterday to address the jury, the first time he’d spoken at length, the first time he’d shown emotion in the courtroom.
“I want to fight and lash out, but that’s not how God made me,” he said. “That’s not who I am."
But he said the case against him was built on lies, and he asked the jury that convicted him: “ How can a man be called a monster that you don’t even know?”
Friends and family testified that Dixon was a good father to his three sons, even after he found out one was not biologically his. They said he acted as a father to his two younger brothers, too, and steered them away from the streets where he made his living.
Outside of the courtroom, Dixon’s supporters said they firmly believed in his innocence. Friend Frank Preston said he was dumbfounded that Dixon was even linked to the crime. “I don’t even know how or why,” Preston said. “It’s not Fonse.”
Fronsman’s family members, though, wanted to see Dixon put to death for what happened. Aunt Deeanne Fischer and cousin Ashley Myers said they’ve stayed away from the trial, not wishing to relive Fronsman’s tortured last days. They were there yesterday, struggling not to react to the kind words they were hearing about Fronsman’s killer.
“I feel sorry for his family for having a monster of a son,” said Fischer, 48, of Louisville, Ohio.
Fischer and Myers headed home before the jury reached its verdict. When she heard by phone what had happened, Fischer paused, then said a life sentence would be justice for Fronsman.
“It’s enough,” she said, “that he won’t be getting out.”
By Lori Kurtzman - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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