LaFonse Dixon’s attorneys said that despite what his co-defendants say, he had nothing to do with setting a woman on fire and leaving her to die in Muskingum County last year.
Jurors decided today that he did. The penalty phase in the death-penalty case begins Tuesday.
Dixon, 34, of Canton, was convicted on charges of aggravated murder with a death-penalty specification, aggravated arson and kidnapping in the death of Celeste Fronsman.
On Aug. 26, 2012, a passing motorist found the 29-year-old Fronsman, of Canton, badly burned and writhing in pain on Rt. 208 outside of Zanesville. Fronsman died two days later from the burns that covered 70 percent of her body.
Two other Canton residents, Monica Washington, 25, and Katrina Culberson, 22, admitted their roles in Fronsman’s death, but they said they weren’t alone. Both pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated arson and kidnapping, avoiding the death penalty in exchange for their testimony against Dixon.
Prosecutors said that Dixon, an alleged drug dealer, thought Fronsman was the snitch behind a drughouse raid. Culberson and Dixon hatched a plan for retaliation, Culberson testified.
Culberson said she talked Fronsman into a friend’s SUV in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 26, 2012. Washington was in the SUV, too, and they’d been smoking crack together. She said they then picked up Dixon, who began beating Fronsman.
The beatings — with Dixon and Washington striking Fronsman — continued as the four drove from Stark to Muskingum County, to a remote area that Culberson knew well, she testified. Prosecutors showed pictures of bloodstains that had been found in the SUV even after it had been cleaned.
During closing arguments yesterday, Muskingum County Assistant Prosecutor Ron Welch showed jurors a picture of Fronsman before the attack, a woman with long dark hair and a smile pulling at the corners of her lips.
He asked them to close their eyes.
Then he recounted what prosecutors believe happened to her that day: The sound of Dixon’s fist smashing into her face. The fear as she huddled, bleeding, on the floor behind the driver’s seat. The smell of gasoline. The searing heat that roused her from unconsciousness after she’d been choked with a tow strap and dragged into tall weeds.
“Really envision how savage this is,” Welch said.
Dixon’s attorneys, though, said during closing arguments that he wasn’t there. Culberson was a kingpin in Canton’s drug and prostitution scene, and the mastermind behind the murder of Fronsman, her lover, they have long maintained.
This was a crime of passion, attorner Isabella Dixon said, “based on obsessive love and crack-fueled emotions.”
LaFonse Dixon’s attorneys suggested that Washington and Culberson acted alone, pulling in Dixon later to give them leverage to negotiate a deal with prosecutors.
They also attacked the prosecution’s evidence, including DNA found on a roll of masking tape and cellphone records that showed Dixon traveling to and from the Zanesville area, saying that none of it definitively placed Dixon at the scene.
“We know it was at least the two of them,” said Isabella Dixon, who is not related to her client. “Whether there was a third person or not, I don’t know.”
By Lori Kurtzman - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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