In The News: An Open and Shut Case

James Dixon stood accused of shooting police sergeant Richard Scanlon in the abdomen during a scuffle on Chicago’s south side.  James Dixon was guilty, right?  He did shoot sergeant Richard Scanlon, right?

Here’s are some facts: (1) A neighbor called the police to report a man with a gun.  Scanlon arrived to find Dixon noisily arguing with his girlfriend’s father.  (2) Dixon and the father began to physically fight.  Scanlon stepped in to break it up.  A shot rang out.  Scanlon was hit.  (3) A .22 caliber gun belonging to Dixon was found nearby.  It was covered with Dixon’s fingerprints.  One bullet had been fired from the gun.  (4) The father, by all accounts, had been unarmed.  (5) The policeman’s revolver remained holstered.  (6) Powder-burns on Scanlon’s skin showed that he had been shot at close range.  (7) Dixon had a previous rap-sheet.  (8) Dixon pleaded guilty.  Note: The officer did not die,  He was awarded a medal for bravery for his efforts.

An open and shut case, right?  Not exactly.  Consider these additional details: (1) Some witnesses said that before Scanlon arrived Dixon’s gun had discharged once.  The bullet went downward into the front porch.  Moreover, there was a chip in the porch consistent with the testimony.  (2) Dixon explained that he had hidden the gun because he didn’t want to be caught with it, not because he had shot the officer.  (3) The powder-burns were concentrated in the inside – but not above – the left pocket of Scanlon’s shirt.  (4) Dixon had spent three years prior in prison, but he had been wrongfully convicted.  (5) The confession and guilty plea was part of a plea bargain agreement.  If convicted Dixon could go away for twenty years in prison.  If he pleaded guilty, the sentence would be one year, and he had already spent 362 days in jail, thus he was almost done –  if he would plea bargain.

What was the truth?  The truth eventually was brought forth by the press.  Scanlon had an illegal pen gun.  It had unintentionally gone off in the struggle.  Scanlon had shot himself by accident.  Dixon was exonerated and won a lawsuit against the police.  Scanlon was stripped of his medal, pleaded guilty to official misconduct, and the veteran officer was fired.

The moral?  Be careful before condemning.  1 Timothy 5:22 reads, “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partakers of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.”

Note: The Dixon-Scanlon story is told in The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, pp. 9-ff.  Also, Lee Strobel, “Four Years in Jail – and Innocent,” Chicago Tribune (August 22, 1976) and “Did Justice Close Her Eyes (August 21, 1977).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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