After former LDS bishop Spencer Dixon was found innocent Thursday of sexually touching a 13-year-old girl, he told news reporters: “I knew justice would prevail. I knew God was on my side.”
Susan Dixon, his wife of 12 years, added, “I never questioned. I never doubted.”
Dixon had admitted touching the girl three times — on the buttocks, breast, and again on the buttocks — at the Salt Lake City wardhouse where he presided last year. But Dixon insisted he was merely trying to help the girl push a stubborn cart through a doorway.
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Argued prosecutor Paul Parker: “Three times is not a mistake. This man intended to ‘cop a feel.’ “
Dixon was charged with first-degree felony aggravated sexual abuse of a child, and faced a mandatory five-years-to-life prison term if he had been convicted.
With the stakes so high, defense attorney Bradley Rich wanted jurors to have the option of finding Dixon guilty of the lesser charge of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum jail term of one year.
Sexual battery occurs when someone touches another’s buttocks, breasts or genitalia knowing it will cause affront or alarm to the victim.
Prior to closing arguments Thursday, Rich told Dixon he felt “very, very, very strongly” that the jury should be given an alternative.
But Dixon rejected his lawyer’s advice — an all-or-nothing gamble that paid off.
The seven-woman, one-man jury deliberated three hours before acquitting the 39-year-old defendant. But several jurors said that, given the opportunity, they might have convicted Dixon of a lesser crime like sexual battery.
Jurors Kerri Radcliffe and Janeen Angels said there was reasonable doubt as to whether Dixon intended the touching to be sexual.
Added juror Darla Hansen: “He was guilty of not using good judgment.”
The touching occurred Aug. 24, 2002, at the Monument Park 7th Ward, 1794 S. Texas St. (2430 East), following funeral services conducted by Dixon for the victim’s great-grandmother.
The girl, who lives in Logan, testified she was tending some younger cousins in the basement nursery of the church when Dixon asked if they wanted to watch a movie. The girl then accompanied him to a library across the hall to get a rolling cart holding a television and VCR.
Dixon said he asked several children to accompany him, but the girl and her cousin testified Dixon specifically asked her.
The girl testified she had never met Dixon before, but because he was a bishop she felt she could “go with him and everything would be OK.”
Dixon said the touching consisted of pushing and pulling on the girl’s body to dislodge the audio-visual cart, which became jammed in a doorway as she was pushing it from the room.
At an earlier preliminary hearing, Dixon had conceded he was “gruff . . . rude . . . in a hurry.”
But if that was the case, why didn’t he apologize to the girl? wondered Parker. “Because he meant to do it,” Parker said. “It wasn’t a mistake.”
Parker added that as a counselor and spiritual adviser to young people, Dixon could not claim ignorance.
“He knows better. He knows better. He knows better,” Parker repeated.
While testifying on Wednesday, Dixon agreed with much of the girl’s testimony, including that he had cupped her buttocks with his hand, touched her breast with the two or three fingers of one hand, then placed his hand on one of her buttocks again.
He admitted he was “wrong” to touch the girl, but insisted he was not trying to gratify any sexual desire.
Defense attorney Rich told jurors they could judge Dixon’s honesty by his admissions.
“An honest man tells the truth, even when it is not to his advantage,” Rich said. “A liar would deny there was any touching.”
Rich also pointed to the brevity of the touching and absence of fondling. He said a real child molester would have closed the door to the library to hide his actions. Rich also noted that Dixon touched the girl with only one hand (the other was on the cart).
“He has not done any of the things a child molester would do,” Rich said. “Never does he grope, fondle or rub her body parts.”
The girl agreed there was no fondling. But she also said there was no pushing or pulling, as described by Dixon.
Dixon, who said he had been a bishop for “a couple of years,” was relieved of his duties last year after he was charged with the sexual abuse.
Touching a child under the age of 14 with sexual intent is normally a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. But the charge against Dixon was elevated to a first-degree felony because of his position of special trust as a bishop, or leader of a congregation, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.