LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — The family of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III had gathered in Louisiana for his funeral when they heard the news: Police had accused another doctor of paying to have him killed.
The doctor, Thomas Michael Dixon, was arrested this week and is accused of paying a business associate in bars of silver to kill Sonnier, who was dating Dixon's ex-girlfriend.
Family members who spoke with Sonnier in recent weeks say they knew an ex-boyfriend of Sonnier's girlfriend was causing the couple problems. The family's focus now, according to Sonnier's sons, is to pursue justice.
"Although there were many tears shed, there was also a sense of hope that our father's murder has been solved," Sonnier's two sons, Joseph IV and James, said in an email.
Dixon and the business associate, David Neal Shepard, are jailed on $10 million bail each.
Sonnier, 57, the chief pathologist for Covenant Health System in Lubbock, was found shot and stabbed July 11 inside his home in the West Texas city.
Five days later, police released an arrest warrant affidavit that accused Dixon — a well-known plastic surgeon in Amarillo, about 120 miles north of Lubbock — of paying Shepard three silver bars worth a total of $9,000. Shepard's roommate told police that Shepard had confessed to the crime after a suicide attempt.
Dixon has been described as having some sort of business relationship with Shepard, though Lubbock Police Capt. Jon Caspell said he didn't think Shepard was working in Dixon's medical practice. Police believe Sonnier and Dixon may have known each other separate from the woman, though family members believe the two doctors did not.
Joseph Sonnier IV, one of Sonnier's sons, said in an email that none of his family knew either Dixon or Shepard specifically.
Shepard told his roommate that he broke into Sonnier's home through a window and shot him several times with a gun Dixon had given him, the affidavit said.
An attorney for Dixon, Dan Hurley, has said the doctor will fight the "untrue" accusations. Police said Wednesday that Shepard did not yet have an attorney.
A former business partner of Dixon, Dr. Rouzbeh Kordestani, told the Amarillo Globe-News that Dixon could at times have trouble controlling his temper. But, Kordestani said, he didn't believe Dixon was violent.
"(Dixon has) had anger issues in the past where he's yelled at people, this and that, and . takes a couple of days and comes back, he's OK," the chief of surgery at Northwest Texas Healthcare System said of Dixon who also had been a friend. "But not like this."
The two met while completing residency programs at the University of Oklahoma in the early 2000s. In 2004 they set up a practice in Amarillo, though by two years later their friendship and partnership had "soured," and the business relationship ended.
"I haven't spoken to Mike since 2006, even though I'm the chief of surgery and he's in my department," he told the newspaper. "It's ridiculous. We would pass each other in the hallway and we would just look away. The split was that harsh."
Kordestani didn't return messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Sonnier's family remembered him at his Monday funeral as a caring doctor, loving son and avid dancer who traveled to events across the country. Joseph Sonnier IV said his father's dance instructors attended the funeral and, at his request, performed a waltz as a tribute.
Joseph and James Sonnier's mother, Becky Gallegos, died two years ago in a suspected marital dispute with her then-husband, Juan Gallegos. Juan Gallegos turned the gun on himself and later died in a hospital. Joseph and James Sonnier, in their email, said both of their parents died "under equally tragic, yet totally unrelated circumstances."
"We have supreme confidence in the Lubbock law enforcement system and know that justice will be served," they said in their email.
Merchant reported from Dallas.