BOWLING GREEN - Robert and Joyce Hirschman drove from their home in Jackson, Mich., to Wood County yesterday for the first court appearance of the man accused of murdering their daughter 21 years ago.
Their only daughter, Karen Sue, was found stabbed to death in her Bowling Green apartment on Jan. 6, 1987. No one was charged in the Bowling Green State University student's murder until last month when a Wood County grand jury indicted Michael Lee Dixon, 50, a former Toledoan, for aggravated murder.
"They didn't forget about her," a grateful Mrs. Hirschman said.
Her husband said the family was happy to learn last year that investigators involved in a cold-case task force had re-examined their daughter's murder and matched DNA evidence from the crime scene to Dixon.
"We are very pleased that the police department and the prosecutor's department took this cold case," Mr. Hirschman said. "It's interesting that they had some DNA evidence from 20 years ago that matched. We're hopeful we get some answers."
Dixon, who could face the death penalty if convicted, has been in prison for the past two decades, serving 84 years to life for an unrelated 1987 murder in Columbus and other crimes committed in Franklin County around the same time period.
Yesterday, Dixon entered a not guilty plea, and Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Pollex ordered him held without bond in the Wood County jail. A pretrial hearing in the case was set for April 1.
Paul Dobson, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, asked the judge to reconsider his decision to allow Dixon to appear in court in civilian clothing.
He said the defendant had a long and violent criminal history, was serving a life sentence already, and was facing the death penalty in this case "giving him nothing to lose."
Defense attorney Dave Klucas said he didn't know how security would be improved by keeping his client, who was shackled at the hands and feet, in an orange, jail-issued jumpsuit.
"People in jail garb look guilty," Mr. Klucas said, adding that Dixon is presumed innocent.
Judge Pollex made no decision on the prosecution's request, but said he would take it under advisement.
Mr. Dobson said afterward that Dixon is an escape risk.
"He's a healthy individual. If he would manage to break security, I want everyone to know the kind of individual they're looking for," Mr. Dobson said.
Also in the courtroom was Phil Wick, who was Ms. Hirschman's boyfriend at the time of her death.
He discovered Karen Sue's body and, for a long time, was the leading suspect.
Now 45 and living in Defiance, Mr. Wick said for years police focused on him.
"They didn't look at anybody else," he said. "I kept saying, 'Why are you doing all this to me? Why aren't you looking for the person who did this?'•"
Mr. Wick said he was with Ms. Hirschman the day she was killed and had left to go to his home in North Baltimore. When he returned two hours later, he found her dead.
"I was scared to death," he recalled, adding that he had no idea who could have done such a thing. "She was a good person, nice and loving, and she cared about her family."
The Hirschmans, who were in court with their son, Jim, said they hadn't given up believing their daughter's killer would be found, but their hopes had faded.
"We didn't want to give up, but as the years go by- over 20 years - the probability of a resolution gets less and less," Mr. Hirschman said.
His wife said one of their daughter's roommates from Bowling Green wrote to her recently and described Ms. Hirschman "as a mixture of sweetness and orneriness."
"I think that describes her beautifully," she said. "She was an athlete, a lovely young lady with a lot of potential, and we miss her terribly."
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