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Dealer in Witness Death Case Gets Life

December 23, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ A drug dealer convicted of killing a witness received a life sentence on Monday in a case that drew attention after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed for the death penalty.

The jury deadlocked on executing Emile Dixon, a 33-year-old drug gang leader, automatically putting him behind bars for life without parole. Dixon had no visible reaction.

The same jury earlier this month found Dixon guilty of murder and drug conspiracy in the trial’s first phase.

A racketeering indictment had identified Dixon as a leader of a gang called the Patio Crew that peddled cocaine in Brooklyn, Albany, N.Y, Richmond, Va., and Raleigh, N.C. Prosecutors said he shot and killed Robert Thompson to keep him from testifying in a murder case against another gang member.

One of Dixon’s attorneys, Richard Levitt, said afterward he respected the jury’s decision. U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf said Dixon’s ``reign of terror″ was over and he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The capital case, only the third in three decades in Brooklyn’s federal district, drew attention last year after Ashcroft overruled local prosecutors’ decision to seek a life term.

Before trial, amid concerns about the reliability of a key prosecution witness, prosecutors recommended seeking life in prison without parole for Dixon. But Ashcroft found that Dixon’s alleged crime met the standard for the death penalty because it was premeditated and posed a risk of death to people other than the intended victim.

New prosecutors assigned to the case amended the indictment to include a second death-eligible charge against the defendant _ the 1992 shooting of one of his drug gang rivals. Dixon also was convicted in the second murder.

Death penalty opponents have accused Ashcroft of ``micromanaging″ the death penalty, noting that his predecessor, Janet Reno, rarely went against the wishes of local prosecutors. Both sides brought up Ashcroft’s name at trial.

``This death penalty prosecution was ordered by John Ashcroft,″ Levitt told jurors. ``You don’t have to listen to John Ashcroft.″

Prosecutor Jack Smith countered by saying that Levitt was ``hoping one of you doesn’t like John Ashcroft. ... Politics have no place here. None.″

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