John Dixon

On December 23, 1990, a twenty-one year old woman was walking on the street when a man started to walk behind her. He grabbed her coat sleeve and pulled her into an alley way. He then threatened her with a .38 caliber gun and dragged her through a number of back yards before he sexually assaulted the victim vaginally and orally. The victim maintained that she looked at the attacker’s face, which was marked by numerous sores, throughout the incident. After the attack, the assailant took sixty dollars and ran off, directing the victim to remain for ten minutes. She made her way to a nearby home, called the police, and was taken to a nearby hospital, where a rape kit was collected. Three days later, the victim was shown a photo array and she picked out Dixon’s picture and gave the police a signed statement. On January 4, 1991, the victim was shown another photo array and again positively identified Dixon as her attacker. Dixon was arrested on January 18, 1991.

In July 1991, Dixon pled guilty to first degree kidnapping, first degree robbery, two counts of first degree aggravated sexual assault, and unlawful possession of a weapon in the third degree. He later asked the judge to withdraw his plea and perform DNA testing, claiming his plea was induced by fear of a harsher sentence if convicted by jury. After the prosecution claimed that they doubted DNA testing would be relevant, the court denied Dixon’s motion, though the prosection also claimed that there was forensic evidence included in the proof against him. DNA testing was not commonly used in New Jersey at the time. Dixon was sentenced to forty-five years with a fifteen year parole eligibility disqualifer.

Dixon’s appeals were unsuccessful. In 1995, he contacted the Innocence Project. A student assigned to his case located the evidence, which was being held at the Irvington Police Department, in 1996. Testing on the rape kit samples was eventually begun by the New Jersey State Police Laboratory and completed in 2001. The results indicated that Dixon could not have been the source of spermatozoa collected from the victim. His conviction was vacated on November 29, 2001, and he was released the next week. He had served 10 years of his conviction.

Time Served:

10 years

State: New Jersey

Charge: Sexual Assault, Kidnapping, Robbery, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon

Conviction: First-degree Sexual Assault (2 cts.), First-degree Kidnapping, Robbery, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon

Sentence: 45 years

Incident Date: 12/23/1990

Conviction Date: 07/17/1991

Exoneration Date: 11/29/2001

Accused Pleaded Guilty: Yes

Contributing Causes of Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification, Government Misconduct

Death Penalty Case: No

Race of Defendant: African American

Status: Exonerated by DNA

Alternative Perpetrator Identified: No