A teenager was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison for his role in the 2008 torture killing of a pregnant, developmentally impaired mother who police say died after weeks of systematic scaldings, beatings, burns from a glue gun and being used as target practice with a BB gun.
Benny Wilson, 19, twice declined to address the judge as the last of six defendants sentenced in Dorothy Dixon's death, which police say Wilson admitted contributing to by routinely shooting her with BBs "playing around." At least once when he ran out of BBs, an investigator testified Friday, Wilson used a knife to dig the ammunition out of Dixon's flesh and fired them off at Dixon again.
"This is the final chapter of a horror story," Alton Police Chief David Hayes said glumly after Wilson got a prison sentence that roughly splits the difference between the 45-year term prosecutors sought and the two decades behind bars suggested by Wilson's attorney, Rand Hale.
The Madison County judge, James Hackett, agreed with Hale that there was plenty of shared blame for "the savagery" that befell Dixon. But Hackett ultimately concluded the strongest sentence should remain the 45-year term assessed to Michelle Riley, the woman identified by authorities as the torture's ringleader.
Investigators have said Dixon was a 29-year-old mother with a childlike mind and another baby on the way when she was found dead in January 2008 at Riley's Alton house, where she had been banished to the basement and given little more than a thin rug and a mattress to call her own on the chilly concrete floor.
Police said Riley had befriended Dixon but pocketed monthly Social Security checks she got because of her mental disabilities. Dixon saw little, if any, of the money, which Riley used to pay rent and other bills.
Authorities say Dixon, who was six months pregnant with a baby boy when she died, ate what she could forage from the refrigerator upstairs, where housemates shot her with BBs, doused her with scalding liquid that peeled away her skin, and assaulted her with a plunger handle. They also torched what few clothes she had, authorities have said, so she walked around naked.
On Friday, Alton police Detective Jennifer Tierney testified that the night before Dixon's body was found, Wilson kicked the woman in the head and the face after finding that she had used his bed but had bloodied it from her festering wounds. After that assault, Tierney said, Wilson cleaned Dixon's blood from his shoes.
Evidence suggested a pot of boiling water was left on the stove almost daily for quick use on Dixon, an investigator has testified.
When police found Dixon's body, clad only in a sweater and covered with towels in the basement, deep-tissue burns covered about one-third of her body _ her face, chest, arms and feet _ and left her severely dehydrated, police have said. Many of her wounds were infected, many BBs still lodged in her flesh.
"Clearly what happened to Dorothy Dixon was despicable and inhuman," Jennifer Vucich, a prosecutor, told Hackett in pressing for the 45-year prison term _ the cap of confinement under the plea deal. "There's no indication someone forced him to do this."
A coroner's jury concluded that Dixon died of an accumulation of injuries over time. Her unborn child, delivered stillborn during Dixon's autopsy, died because the mother did, the jury ruled.
Dixon's year-old boy weighed just 15 pounds when taken into state custody after his mom's death, police have said. His whereabouts were unclear Friday.
Wilson pleaded guilty in March of last year to a first-degree murder count, but his sentencing was delayed after he fired one of his attorneys and at one point threatened to withdraw his guilty plea. When hearing his sentence Friday, the shackled Wilson showed little emotion, staring blankly ahead before looking down.
Wilson's attorney, Rand Hale, said that while his client's role in Dixon's death could not be excused, he urged the judge to take into account that Wilson was just 16 at the time of the killing and essentially abandoned, staying at Riley's home only by necessity.
"This case really represents a grim view into the horrors people can inflict on others, especially those who can't protect themselves," Tom Gibbons, Madison County's top prosecutor, said later Friday.