New Details Emerge in Alleged Murder-for-Hire Plot Against Texas Dr. Joseph Sonnier

Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon may face his third murder trial.
Lubbock County Jail

A Texas plastic surgeon previously found guilty in an alleged murder-for-hire plot may find himself being tried for a third time in the slaying of his romantic rival.

Dr. Michael Dixon was convicted in 2015 of the hired hit on Dr. Joseph Sonnier, who was dating Dixon's ex-girlfriend, Richelle Shetina. The verdict followed an earlier case that ended in mistrial.

Just a few weeks ago, Dixon was released on $2 million bail after winning an appeal. Prosecutors are fighting to have the conviction reinstated, while Dixon's attorneys want a new trial. 

Meanwhile, ABC's "20/20" presents a two-hour documentary Friday that bores into the 7-year-old case with new interviews of two hold-outs from the first trial's jury and a sit-down with Cynthia Orr, Dixon's appellate attorney, who insists her client is not responsible for the stabbing and shooting death of Sonnier.

The segment also features discussions with journalists who covered the case, including former Associated Press correspondent Betsy Blaney and Gabe Monte of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. 

The lurid saga began with the slaying of Sonnier, a rich pathologist whose body was found inside his expansive Lubbock home by landscapers who arrived to work on the house's grounds. 

Police were initially stumped by the crime. But days later they received a call from Paul Stevens, who said he was staying with a man named David Shepard. His host, Stevens said, spoke of killing someone in Lubbock. Shepard went online and saw news reports of Sonnier's killing and concluded he must have been Shepard's victim.

During questioning, Shepard told investigators his friend Dixon paid him three silver bars, worth about $9,000, and a box of Cuban cigars to kill Sonnier, his rival for Shetina's affections. Pawn shop records showed Shepard sold the bars one day after the murder.

Dixon was arrested on the day of Sonnier's funeral.

His first trial began in 2014, with Shepard as the prosecution's star witness. He had accepted a plea deal in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Under the terms of his agreement, he surrendered his right to appeal.

On the witness stand, however, Shepard dealt the prosecution a stunning blow. Instead of implicating Dixon, he testified he acted alone in killing Sonnier and that the silver bars were an investment for a business they were opening. The jury announced they were hopelessly deadlock and a mistrial was ordered.

A year later, at Dixon's second trial, prosecutors didn't call Shepard to the stand. Rather, they relied on the testimony of Stevens, who recounted the conversation he had with Shepard about the killing and Shepard's confession. The latter's daughter also testified that her dad, who she said was notoriously bad with money, all of a sudden had plenty of cash. Hayley Shepard told the jury she believed her father killed Sonnier on Dixon's behalf and switched his story to protect his best friend.

In November 2015, Dixon wass found guilty on two counts of capital murder and was sentenced to life behind bars without parole.

In December of last year, the 7th District Court of Appeals in Amarillo accepted Dixon's appeal and reversed his conviction, granting him a new trial. One month later, he was released on bond. 

Prosecutors filed a petition in February to reinstate Dixon's conviction. If granted, Dixon would go back to prison. If not, Dixon may face a third trial to determine his fate.

RELATED STORIES 

Trial by Birdie: Parrot's 'Testimony' in Murder Case Leads to Conviction of Wife

A Look at Karina Vetrano's Murder, as Mistrial Is Declared 2 Years Later

Hung Jury in Trial of Chanel Lewis, Man Charged With Murdering Karina Vetrano