Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Legal & Life Lessons from a Dallas Cowboy

Hunt for Justice by Cynthia Hunt

How could he not be bitter?

Marcus Dixon’s case proves our justice system can fail miserably.

Still, he’s not bitter.

How would you feel if our justice system stole almost two years of your life and a dream you had defied odds to make come true?

You may remember Marcus’s story. It sparked national outrage and a change in Georgia laws.

His Father Abandoned Him & His Mother Went To Prison but the Little Boy Still Excelled

Marcus Dixon (pictured above) was always special despite how unfair his life seemed to be. His spirit and athletic talent made him stand out even in little league. After his father vanished and his mother went to prison, his grandmother gave her blessings when a white family asked to adopt 9-year-old Marcus, who is black.

Kenneth and Peri Jones, a school maintenance manager and teacher, lost relationships with two immediate family members but never regretted their decision to adopt a black child in the mostly white community of Rome, Georgia. They treated him the same as their son by birth.
(Pictured Below Peri & Ken Jones Appear on CBS to Discuss Marcus's Case)

Marcus was a superstar in the classroom and on the field. As a high school senior, he had a 3.96 grade-point average and a full football scholarship to Vanderbilt University. The Joneses never dreamed they would soon be spending their life savings defending their star son.

The Racially Charged Case Begins

When Marcus was 18, he had sex with a white girl who was just shy of her 16th birthday. She later claimed he raped her. He said the sex was consensual and the girl had told him her father was a racist and would never approve. Many felt the prosecution that followed was harsh and racially motivated. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the following if the boy had been white and the girl black.

For the most part, the jury believed Marcus and rejected the long list of charges the prosecutor had thrown at the teen—rape, sexual battery, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault. However in this “she said—he said” case, the jury convicted Marcus of the odd combination of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and the more serious charge of aggravated child molestation because it was illegal for him as an 18-year-old to have sex with a girl who was just shy of 16.

The jurors were shocked and outraged when the judge, who was bound by Georgia’s mandatory sentencing laws, sent Marcus to prison for 10 years with no possibility of parole. The jurors did not realize what they had done until it was too late, and Marcus was headed to prison for the next decade. Five of the jurors said they never would have voted for what they thought were lesser convictions if they had known the result of their decision.

Outrage Spread Across the Nation Over How Legal System Treated Marcus

Marcus’s story sparked a national outcry and charges of Old South injustice. A white attorney saw the teen’s story and worked on Marcus’s appeal pro bono. After Marcus served 15 months in prison, the Georgia Supreme Court threw out Marcus's conviction and sentence for the molestation charges agreeing with his attorneys that it was cruel and unusual punishment. It's interesting to note that in this racially charged controversy, it was a white corporate Georgia attorney who donated $400,000 worth of legal work to free Marcus. Lawmakers themselves said they never realized that the law they had passed to strengthen sentencing guidelines for child molesters could be applied to consensual sex between teenagers. (Above, Marcus is freed)

Marcus Shows the Dallas Cowboys the Stuff of a Real Champion

Marcus could not regain everything he had lost, especially the full scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Marcus got a football scholarship to Hampton University in Virginia. Now five years after this legal nightmare started, Marcus is getting a second chance at his dream. He’s on the practice team for the Dallas Cowboys with hopes of making the team.

Pam Oliver, FOX’s awesome and respected NFL Correspondent, updated the story of Marcus Oliver last Sunday. In her interview, I was struck when he told her he is NOT bitter. (Watch video of Pam’s story on Marcus.)

NOT Bitter?

Marcus's Story Presents a Question for Us All

During this miraculous time of the year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, there is so much to learn from this 24-year-old kid who lost so much because of a failure in our legal system.

Holiday Flying & A Cold-Hearted, Continental Gate Agent Made Me Daydream about Breaking Laws

I know people who are bitter about all events great and small in their lives. As I was flying home to Alabama to see my family yesterday, a bitter Continental gate agent went on the plane just before takeoff to yank me off the flight because she could not find my ticket for my 5-pound Chihuahua who was sitting in a carrier underneath my seat. I begged her to let me work it out with Continental in Nashville, but nope. She took me off the plane and let the plane leave with my seat empty.

I’m bitter about that.

At first, I had visions of this obviously miserable woman going hunting with Dick Cheney. That made me ashamed. Then I had visions of her going clubbing with Plaxico Burress. That made me laugh. The woman who had been incredibly rude all morning to even elderly passengers is obviously a bitter person. After spending almost six hours waiting for the next flight . . . hours I was supposed to be spending with my terminally ill younger sister . . . I became more embittered.

Still m
y thoughts go back to Marcus Dixon—a young man with so much grace that he can forgive and forget how unfair life has often been to him and persevere. My six hours of airport waiting was nothing compared to his 15 months in prison. Could you feel the same way if our legal system robbed you of an experience you richly earned and stole two years from your life? Our legal system is made by humans and therefore will have more cases like this.

I’ve decided the world is made up of the bitter and the not bitter. The bitter are petty about everything, worrying that someone, somewhere is getting a better deal. These people are so overwhelmed with insecurity and jealousy, they spend valuable energy trying to bring others down . . . even others who are on the same team as they.

Marcus & My Sister Share a Secret

The “not bitter” are the champions in life. The people of all ages and races who refuse to let life’s circumstances ever damage their spirit. The ones who want good things for all their peers because they understand when one wins, we all win.

My sister Angelia (left) isn’t bitter. After a massive heart attack at age 23, she was told she had inoperable brain aneurysms and a heart aneurysm and that she would probably live only a few more months. I am incredibly blessed to tell you nine beautiful years later she is still alive and doctors call her a little miracle, a word MD's don't use lightly.

Angelia takes 12 medications a day. She cannot lift more than five pounds or exercise. She cannot dream of becoming a mother. There is no treatment for her DNA flaw that causes her collagen to be so weak and therefore her blood vessels to be so fragile. Doctors don't know how long she can defy the odds, but I know she is blessing all in her path with her happy spirit . . . a spirit of faith and thankfulness for each day she wakes up alive . . . a spirit with no bitterness.

In this season of Christ, I hope I can be more like my sister and Marcus. I hope I can rise above anything that comes in my path and find the grace to be thankful. Since this is a crime blog, I guess I am somewhat helped by the fact many people aren’t like Marcus. . . . We wouldn’t have so many murders and crimes to fill our blog with lively writing and debate.
Marcus told a Dallas Morning News reporter "I stayed in the Word. I stayed prayed up. My faith can't be broken. It's so strong, nothing can break it. It's always hard to have faith because you are tested every day."

Thank you Marcus for being wise at only 24 . . . and for reminding me the best revenge is to beat bitterness. The Dallas Cowboys will be lucky to have you on their team to remind some of the spoiled and the petty multi-millionaire star athletes what a true champion is like.


Anonymous said...

Marcus is a winner, no matter what!
GO MARCUS!!!!! (and gotta love them Cowboys!)

Anonymous said...

I am so happy for Marcus. The Cowboys are fortunate to have him.

Diane said...

Marcus is definitely an inspiration.

However, so are you and your sister. Every day is precious and I hope things go well for you too Cynthia.

Anonymous said...

What a heroic, inspiring young man.

God bless Marcus, your brave sister, and you Cynthia.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Marcus Dixon’s case proves our justice system can fail miserably.

This is not a failure of the justice system. It is an example of the desperate rush of too many legislators to make everything illegal -- unless it is required -- and not even understanding what the laws they are passing will do.

For some real examples of legal 'system' failures read this: On Thin Ice

It sounds like a fish tale, but two small-business owners, Bob Blandford and Abner Schoenwetter, are doing hard time -- eight years and one month -- in the federal penitentiary. Their crime? Importing the wrong size lobster tails in the wrong containers.

And there's much more in the article.

Whimsy Woman said...

I appreciate this story so much!! We all need to be reminded that the only person hurt by a bitterness is the person who chooses to live with it. I will be praying that your sister continues to defy the odds and that Marcus continues to inspire others with his story of faith.

Cynthia Hunt said...

Thank you all for your thoughts.
Voice of Sanity...must you be so literal? If the law is wrong then it impacts the justice system causing a failure.

My hope is that Marcus Dixon can read this. It made my Christmas to allow my sister to read it and your comments. Blessings to you all!

A Voice of Sanity said...

The law was applied as it was drafted. Politicians pass laws like this, and then take the penalty out of the judge's hands, but when the public looks for someone to blame the politicians never take the heat. If you study this case you will note that the politicians changed the law -- which shows they knew there was a problem -- but did NOT make the change retroactive thus leaving Marcus to serve out his sentence. What does that tell you? That racism was in play?

Anonymous said...

Cynthia, I'd like to know how you get your Chihuahua to behave on an airplane. Mine is a little terrorist and I don't think she would make a good travel companion.

Anonymous said...

Lets not forget ricky who wanted to go into the armed forces and become a police officer after he served his country.


His mother, Mary became totally blind a few weeks prior to his arrest for consensual teen sex has learned through a "blind program" to fight to the max for her son. And she does it on $500.00 a month.

She may soon be evicted due to her inability to pay the bills, yet she fights on. Ricky cannot find work so he is learning to build web sites. He built this one for me, as well as the forum. www.cfcoklahoma.org

If anyone needs or wants a web site, he does excellent work.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,
My name is Marcus Dixon and I want to thank you all for your concern, encouragement, and definitely your prayers. I just happen to pull up this site by way of yahoo and I'm really late. I hope everyone will be able to read this because I'm truly grateful for you all. Your prayers and concerns are the reason I'm able to live my dream today. God Bless you all!

Women in Crime Ink said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Marcus! Your story is both instructive and inspiring and we were pleased to feature it. If you would like to share your experience with readers of Women in Crime Ink, we would love to interview you--or, if you'd rather write your own piece, we run a "Your Turn" column for guest contributors. We would be proud to run a piece from you. If either a Q&A or a first-person post interests you, e-mail us at womenincrimeink@yahoo.com
Take care.

Anonymous said...

This writing is so hokey and ham-fisted. You think maybe you could find a better comparison to unjust incarceration than missing an airplane over your pocket dog?

It seemed like a self-indulgent excuse to slam a stranger who bothered you and insert yourself into the story.