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Back to Feminist Response In Disability Activism (FRIDA)

Sentence for Dixon's Torturers

Posted on Fri, Feb. 05, 2010
45 years for Alton torture-murder of disabled, pregnant woman

A Madison County judge on Friday afternoon handed a 45-year sentence to an Alton woman involved in the torture and murder of a pregnant, developmentally disabled woman.

The defendant's attorney said she took the fall to spare her daughter.

Michelle Riley, 37, of Alton pleaded guilty in October to first-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors' promise they would recommend a sentence of 30 to 45 years. Circuit Judge Charles Romani Jr. went with the maximum end of that range.

After the sentencing, defense attorney Jon Delaney told reporters that Riley was trying to spare her daughter, who is also charged with first-degree murder along with three others. Delaney said part of the deal for the mother is that the daughter, 17-year-old LeShelle McBride, will be offered a sentencing deal of 6-20 years for second-degree murder. Prosecutors declined comment on Delaney's claim about the mother-daughter deal.

Without the plea deal, Riley could have faced up to natural life in prison.

Her victim was Dorothy Dixon, 29, whose ongoing torture included being beaten with a plunger handle, burned with a hot glue gun and boiling water, and used for target practice with a BB pistol. Investigators said Dixon was a mother with a childlike mind and another baby on the way when she was found dead in January 2008 at a house in Alton, where she had been banished to the basement and given little more than a thin rug and a mattress for a bed.

Riley, McBride and the three other defendants all resided in the house with Dixon. Alton Detective Jennifer Tierney said her investigation showed Riley was the "ringleader" of the abuse -- an assertion that Delaney disputed.

Investigators said Riley befriended Dixon but pocketed monthly Social Security checks she got because of her mental disabilities. Dixon saw little, if any, of the money, police said.

"She basically treated Miss Dixon as a slave in the household," Tierney testified.

Authorities said Dixon ate what she could forage from the refrigerator upstairs, where housemates shot her with BBs and doused her with scalding water that peeled away her skin. They also torched what few clothes she had, authorities have said, so she walked around naked.

When her body was found Jan. 31, 2008, clad only in a sweater 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.

Pathologist Dr. Raj Nanduri said some of Dixon's teeth were knocked out, and the abscesses were infected. BBs were still lodged in various parts of her body. In some cases tissue had grown around the pellets; in others the wounds were infected.

When given an opportunity to make a statement to the court, Riley tearfully said she wishes it had never happened.

"I'm sorry that I can't take it back," she said.

Romani noted that Riley has struggled with drug abuse and bipolar disorder, but he said it's no excuse.

"There were things done to this woman that you don't see done to animals, let alone human beings," Romani said. "This lady was tortured."

Assistant State's Attorney Mike Stewart, in arguing for the 45-year sentence, said Riley's actions were unconscionable.

"I don't think 45 years is enough, but that's what we agreed to," Stewart told the judge.

Two relatives, who cried during the sentencing, declined to give their names to reporters, but they said they're satisfied with the sentence.

It's unclear how Dixon came to be a resident of the Alton household. She at one time lived in a mental health institution. The two relatives in court said Dixon's family members checked on her periodically by phone.

A coroner's jury concluded that Dixon died of an accumulation of injuries over time. Her...

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