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BOWLING GREEN - Each Jan. 6, the day he murdered a college student, Michael Lee Dixon will be forced to be alone.
A Wood County Common Pleas judge Friday sentenced the 52-year-old man to solitary confinement every year on that day in January, along with life in prison for the 1987 rape and murder of Karen Sue Hirschman.
The solitary confinement requirement, made at the request of Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson, pleased Robert and Joyce Hirschman of Jackson, Mich., who had waited more than 22 years for justice in the stabbing death of their only daughter in her Bowling Green apartment.
"It helps because we remember it every year," Mrs. Hirschman said. "We appreciate that."
Dixon didn't admit in court yesterday to killing Miss Hirschman.
Still, to Miss Hirschman's parents, the DNA evidence that linked Dixon to their daughter's death rendered the guilty plea for him.
Dixon pleaded no contest yesterday to aggravated murder and was found guilty by Judge Robert Pollex.
Mr. Hirschman praised Bowling Green police and the county prosecutor's office for persevering in the investigation of his daughter's murder.
Their son, Jim Hirschman, said he and his parents had given up on knowing what happened to his older sister.
In between tears, he said, "We're definitely very thankful for what we know today."
Dixon did not speak in court other than to answer yes or no to Judge Pollex's questions. His no-contest plea meant he did not admit guilt but waived his right to defend himself against the charge.
"The biggest disappointment is he didn't say, 'I did it,'•" Mrs. Hirschman said. "But as Mr. [John] Helm put it, his DNA said he did it."
Mr. Helm, an investigator with the Wood County Prosecutor's Office, met with Dixon after a cold-case task force learned that DNA from Miss Hirschman matched Dixon's DNA profile in a statewide database. Mr. Dobson told the court that Mr. Helm and Bowling Green Police Det. Jason Stanley had gone to interview Dixon and seek a new DNA sample for a second test when Dixon told them that if his DNA matched, he "may have" killed Miss Hirschman though he didn't recall it.
Mr. Dobson said Dixon did not break into Miss Hirschman's apartment, but was able to get inside and rape her. He said there was evidence of trauma in her bedroom and in the living room where the Bowling Green State University student was found stabbed multiple times, her hands bound with belts from the apartment.
At the time, Dixon was wanted in Franklin County, where he had walked away from a halfway house where he was staying after being released from prison. He had served time for raping a woman at knifepoint and had been paroled in 1986.
Just a few weeks after Miss Hirschman was murdered in January, 1987, Mr. Dobson said Dixon went on a crime spree in Columbus, breaking into several apartments and at one, fatally shooting a female student. For those crimes, he is serving a prison term of 84 years to life.
"The defendant is serving a prison term that will certainly outlast the remainder of his life, so what else can we do? What can we do for Karen?" Mr. Dobson asked the court before requesting that Judge Pollex order Dixon into solitary confinement every Jan. 6.
Judge Pollex granted the request and expressed his sympathy to the family. He told Dixon he hoped he would take to heart the events of Jan. 6 each year on that day.
Dixon could have faced the death penalty if convicted on the original indictment, but in entering into the plea agreement, settled for life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
Dropping the death-penalty specifications was a key reason for Dixon's plea yesterday, said his attorney, Dave Klucas.
"This was the best possible method of resolution," he said, adding that the state had "pretty compelling" evidence to convict Dixon, although the defense felt it had a strong case against the death penalty.
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