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Donald Dixon

Other Kansas City, MO Exonerations
On the morning of November 27, 1983, police officers found 70-year-old Pauline Chambers and her 86-year-old husband Earl lying dead from stab wounds on the bedroom floor of their home in Kansas City, Missouri.
The front door of the home had been kicked in, the house ransacked, and a bloody eleven-inch butcher knife was found in one of the bedrooms.
On November 30, 18-year-old Anthony Lytle was questioned for more than two hours by Detectives Floyd Williams and Bennie White. Sometime after 1:26 p.m. the defendant was allowed to talk to his mother. Detective Williams later testified that he was “very hard” on Lytle to try to “shock the young man into reality, into telling the truth.” Williams told Lytle that “if he went to the penitentiary, he would definitely not survive because he was too small, he couldn't protect himself.” Lytle was interrogated for another 5 hours by two other detectives, Edward Glynn and Earl Craven.
Initially, Lytle said he knew nothing about the murders, but finally told the detectives that he was at the home on the night of the crime with three other youths—17-year-old Jon Keith Smith as well as Donald Dixon and James “Eddie” Bowman, who were both 18. Lytle told police that he and the others were casing homes to burgle later that night, and when they came to the Chambers’ residence, the door was already kicked in and they saw two men, one of whom he recognized as Michael Cunningham, inside already burglarizing the home.
Lytle’s story evolved. At first he said he was never in the house, but then admitted he did go inside where he saw the blood-covered body of Earl Chambers lying on the bedroom floor. Lytle said he and his friends took some items from the home and left. The detectives allowed Lytle to go home after the interrogation.
On December 2, 1983, Lytle was arrested and taken to police headquarters where he was interrogated again from about 7 p.m. until after 10:15 pm by Detectives Glynn and Craven.
The detectives later testified that they used a “quiet” or “soft-spoken” interrogation technique, talking to Lytle in a normal tone of voice and in a father-son fashion during the interrogation.
After about 90 minutes of questioning, Lytle, according to the detectives, became emotional and said that “Eddie did it,” referring to Bowman.  Lytle said that while in the house he heard grunts and groans from one of the bedrooms and then saw Bowman stab someone whom he later learned was Pauline Chambers. The officers then decided to videotape Lytle. On the tape, Lytle said that he kept watch for a while then rummaged through drawers while Dixon, Bowman and Smith carried items out of the house.
Lytle said he heard someone talking in a bedroom and assumed someone was talking to the residents. Lytle said Bowman went into the bedroom and there was the sound of a scuffle and someone yelled “No, no, no” and there were screams of pain. Lytle said he ran to the bedroom where he saw Bowman stab someone he thought was a man and then Bowman put a long-bladed knife in his pocket.
Lytle said he and the others, including Cunningham and his accomplice, stole wallets, coin purses, televisions, a microwave, a fur coat, and a jewelry box and the two groups went their separate ways. Lytle said he and his friends drove to Dixon’s house where they hooked up a television they had taken to see if it worked. They then drove to Smith’s house and left a microwave and a second television set and then Lytle went home.
Police then arrested Lytle, as well as Smith, Bowman, Dixon and Cunningham and charged them with first-degree murder, burglary, robbery and armed criminal action.
Almost immediately after Lytle was charged, he recanted the statement that implicated Bowman and said that the truth was that the couple were already dead by the time they went into the home.
At a pre-trial hearing, Lytle unsuccessfully sought to suppress his confession on the ground that he changed his statement to implicate Bowman after Detective Glynn punched him in the face. In addition, the defense called a clinical psychologist who testified that Lytle was “very suggestible” and thought “in terms of what others want, and has difficulty sticking with his own thinking.” The psychologist testified that if Lytle told the truth, but was told that he was lying, he could very well change his statement and that ultimately, any response should be considered unreliable. The detectives denied striking Lytle and the motion to suppress the confession was denied.
At Lytle’s trial in 1984, the detectives testified to Lytle’s statements and the video was played for the jury. The prosecution also presented evidence that one of the shoe prints found on the bloodstained floor matched tennis shoes recovered from Dixon. Bloodstains were found on shoes recovered from Smith and one of the Chambers’ television sets was found at the Smith residence bearing Smith’s palm print. A second television, with Earl Chambers’ social security number, was found under the front porch at Bowman’s residence.
The jury convicted Lytle of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Dixon, Bowman and Smith were tried separately over the next two years. In each of the trials, Lytle’s video-taped statement was played for the jury and Lytle each time testified that the statement was false and was the result of coercion. Dixon, Bowman and Smith were each convicted of murder, robbery, burglary and armed criminal action and each was sentenced to life in prison.
In October 1987, the prosecution put Cunningham on trial. In this case, the prosecution presented only Lytle’s first statement—in which Lytle said that the couple was already dead when he along with Bowman, Dixon and Smith arrived.
Cunningham was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, burglary and armed criminal action and he, too, was sentenced to life in prison.
Lytle, Bowman, Dixon and Smith all challenged their convictions on appeal and in each case, the convictions were upheld. Smith filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 1991, and in 1993, a hearing was held on a defense claim that the prosecution had withheld details of a deal they made with Lytle prior to his testimony. At the hearing, prosecutors admitted that in 1990, they agreed with Lytle that he would be resentenced to time served and released. A judge ruled that the agreement should have been disclosed to the defense attorneys for Bowman, Smith and Dixon, but rejected a motion to vacate the convictions. The judge held that the failure to disclose the agreement had been harmless, and dismissed the petition.
In 2000, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the judge’s order and granted the petition, vacating Smith’s convictions and ordering a new trial. The court held that the prosecution’s use of two different and diametrically opposed theories as to who committed the murders had violated Smith’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
“Smith contends that this manipulation of the evidence deprived him of due process and rendered his trial fundamentally unfair. We agree,” the appeals court said. “The State’s use of factually contradictory theories in this case constituted ‘foul blows,’ error that fatally infected Smith’s conviction.”
In December 2000, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case and the prosecution dismissed the murder charge. Smith remained convicted of the burglary charge but he had long served the maximum term for that crime and he was released. In April 2001, Bowman and Dixon were released after their murder convictions were vacated and the charges dismissed at the request of the prosecution. As with Smith, their convictions for burglary remained intact.
In 2004, Dixon was convicted in federal court of illegal possession of ammunition and was sentenced to 33 months in prison. In 2005, Bowman was convicted of bank robbery in federal court and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/5/2014
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1983
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No