TARPON SPRINGS — Dena Tingling arrived at the fourth-floor courtroom Dec. 16 for what she thought would be a hearing related to the first-degree murder trial of a man accused of fatally stabbing her elderly father, Eddie Dixon, more than a year ago.
Instead, she watched Richard Brockington, 46, plead guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
For Tingling, 46, and her family, Brockington's sentence raises questions about the Tarpon Springs Police Department's investigation into Dixon's death.
"We want answers," Tingling said.
Documents recently obtained by the Tampa Bay Times reveal that the case against Brockington was based solely on circumstantial evidence, which prompted the state to reduce the charge.
"This case was very complex from the very beginning," said Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen. "I feel really bad for the family. I understand what they're going through. I'm sure they wanted either the death penalty or life in prison. But when you look at the case, the state has to make a judgment call and we supported that decision."
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At 73 years old, Eddie Dixon walked gingerly with a walker, but he was well-known at North Ring Village, a public housing complex on Ring Avenue east of Alt. U.S. 19.
A Vietnam veteran and retired Tarpon Springs public works employee, Dixon often gave neighbors money and asked them to buy beer for him. He usually let them keep the change, according to Tarpon Springs police documents.
"My dad," Tingling said, "he was such a giving man."
Every morning, a nurse arrived and gave him his medicine. On the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, she knocked repeatedly on his door, but Dixon didn't answer. She opened the apartment and found Dixon's bloodied body on the tile floor, just 3 feet from the door, police records show.
Officers arrived and secured the scene. Footprints littered the floor. Dixon had been stabbed about 15 times. An autopsy concluded that the stab wounds punctured his heart and lungs.
Dixon's pants had been pulled down and the pockets turned out. His right sock was also pulled down, indicating "someone had gone through them searching for money or other items to steal," wrote Tarpon homicide detective Barry Wireman, who was transferred to the agency's patrol division Jan. 30.
Dixon's wallet was missing. So was a large kitchen knife with a worn wooden handle.
Tingling told detectives her father kept large amounts of money tucked away in his wallet and socks. Neighbors were "well aware" that he always carried cash, she said.
Brockington's name emerged when detectives interviewed Dixon's neighbor, Veronica Joe. She told them Brockington had arrived at her apartment the night of Dec. 6 with blood stains on his long-sleeved shirt. He was carrying $20 and $50 bills.
During his first interaction with police, Brockington said he sometimes went over to Dixon's to drink beers, but hadn't been over in a while. Police swabbed his cheek for DNA. Brockington gave them his shoes.
"He appeared to be very nervous while we were speaking with him," a detective wrote in a report.
Brockington was staying with his then-girlfriend, Diane Hampton, in her apartment in the complex. During an interview with detectives, she told them Brockington "seemed on edge and very nervous" the night Dixon was killed. He had also described to her how Dixon's body was lying on the floor, police records state.
When police inspected the surveillance video at the complex, they saw footage of a man, later identified as Brockington, ambling in the courtyard outside Dixon's apartment.
At 10:08 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2012, video surveillance captures Brockington walking toward Dixon's apartment. Two minutes later, he is back in the courtyard, rifling through what looks like a wallet. He hides some items in the bushes.
Moments later, Brockington knocks on Joe's door and she lets him in. Police later learned Joe was giving him crack cocaine, according to records.
The next morning, before Dixon's nurse opens his apartment door, Brockington returns to the bushes to retrieve something. Police looked at the video again later and realized Brockington may have also been holding a knife.
On April 3, Brockington called Tarpon Springs police dispatch and said he was depressed and suicidal. Detectives arrived at the complex and found him standing near a suitcase and backpack, appearing like he was preparing to move out, according to records. Then a detective asked about the night of Dec. 6.
Brockington started to cry and said he would only speak about Dixon's slaying with a lawyer present.
He was arrested.
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But the first-degree murder charge didn't stand up in court.
"We were hoping some evidence would come forth forensically to give us a better shot to prove the higher degree of murder," said Pinellas-Pasco assistant state attorney Mark McGarry.
Police did not find Brockington's DNA in Dixon's home. Partial fingerprints collected at the scene "did not appear to be of any value," records show. DNA wasn't detected on Brockington's shoes. The murder weapon and Dixon's wallet were never recovered.
And the video, which police considered their strongest piece of evidence, was not enough to support a first-degree murder charge. Detectives initially assumed that Brockington was holding a knife, but the video is dark and grainy.
"What you think is a knife, looks like a knife, but are you sure? The quality was a big problem," Kochen said. "We were working with what we had."
Another problem with the video: Dixon's apartment door was not part of the footage.
"We had (Brockington) in the area, we had him doing suspicious activity. We didn't have anything at the crime scene necessarily," McGarry said. "We had a circumstantial case at best."
Tingling, Dixon's daughter, said Brockington's short sentence doesn't bring her family closure.
"I still want justice for my father," she said. "Something else could have been done on this."
She visited her father often, always shopping for him and cooking his favorite dinner, smothered pork chops, on Sundays.
"I miss my dad's phone calls. He called me every day," she said. "He had people that loved him."
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.