Fact Check

Marcus Dixon

Has a black teenager been sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual sex with a teenage girl?

Published Jan 27, 2004


Claim:   Marcus Dixon, an African-American teenager, was sentenced to ten years in prison for having had sex with a white teenaged girl.

Status:   Multiple:

  • Marcus Dixon was sentenced to ten years in prison on a charge of aggravated child molestation arising from his having had sexual congress with an underage girl:   True.
  • His conviction on child molestation charges was overturned :   True.
  • His prosecution was racially motivated:   Undetermined.
  • The sex act over which he was convicted was consensual:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2004]

There is an 18 year old African American honor student — Marcus Dixon — in Rome, Georgia who is spending ten years in prison for having consensual sex with a white classmate who was just three months shy of 16 yrs old at the time they had sex. Although a jury acquitted Marcus of rape and three other counts of violent acts, the prosecutor also charged him with "aggravated child molestation." Consensual sex with a virgin fits into the technical reading of this Georgia statute. The statute has never been applied to consensual sex between two teenagers with less than three years age difference, until now. I believe the result is a horrible injustice, especially because Marcus overcame a troubled childhood to excel in academics and athletics. What follows are the general details.

In February 2003, Marcus Dixon, was a senior in high school. Marcus is not your typical senior. He had a 3.96 grade point average, a 1200 on his SATs, and was all state in football. He was offered scholarships to every major school in the South but chose Vanderbilt University because he felt they were the best academically. In essence, this alone, made Marcus a star. Think about it, how many all-State football players carry a 3.96 grade point average? How many high school kids at all have a 3.96 and a 1200 on their SATs? Statistically speaking, not many. This alone set Marcus apart from the other seniors in his class.

But there is more.

Marcus was born in Rome, Georgia a rural town about 70 miles outside of Atlanta that still carries much of the prejudices and complications of the deep South. Marcus' biological mother is a drug addicted career criminal who has been in and out of prison since Marcus was a baby. His biological father never had anything to do with him. Most kids born into this situation have little or no chance of succeeding. Yet Marcus defied the odds. When Marcus was ten years old, a local white family became his legal guardians. Why is this relevant? In a town where many still believe that blacks and whites should not mix, this family took Marcus in and raised him as their own.

Again, most children born into Marcus' situation barely survive. Marcus is the exception. Beyond all the odds and probabilities he is a star. So what happened? How did this star come crashing down?

It started in February 2003. Marcus had sex with a girl just shy of sixteen. She was a virgin. She is also white. Two days later, she accused Marcus of rape. Some speculate she made the accusation because she was afraid of her admittedly racist father. Regardless of the reasons, a jury of nine white jurors and three African Americans took only 15-20 minutes to determine, after hearing all the evidence, that Marcus did nothing wrong. The jury decided that the incident was no more than two teenagers having consensual sex. Based on the girl's own testimony, it is amazing they ever brought charges against Marcus. And yet, in the rural town of Rome, Georgia, where there is still some KKK rumblings, 9 white and 3 African American jurors found her story to have absolutely no basis in fact. So why is Marcus in prison? How is it possible that a high school boy who had consensual sex with a classmate is in prison for ten years?

Marcus was indicted under six different statutes under Georgia law. Four of the statutes include use of force. He was acquitted on all charges that included force. The jury was very specific. It was not even close. It is not that they had reasonable doubt...they had no doubt - the sex was consensual. The girl was not there against her will.

The prosecutor, in what can only be perceived as an act of complete disregard for the law, facts and justice in general, included a charge of "aggravated child molestation". Under Georgia law, if anyone (age of the perpetrator is irrelevant - he could be 15) has sex with a minor (under 16) that results in an "any injury", he is guilty of "child molestation". The jury deliberated for hours on this charge. In the end, technically, this situation fell under the purview of the statute as written. Marcus, admittedly had sex with the girl, she was under 16 (by three months), and, again admittedly, she was a virgin. It was the fact that she was a virgin that resulted in the Guilty verdict. You see, she sustained an "injury" as a result of intercourse. Technically, he is guilty.

The absurdity of charging a high school boy with child molestation for consensual sex with a high school girl is beyond description. In essence, every girl in Georgia that loses her virginity before 16 can charge the boy with aggravated child molestation. By definition, he is guilty, even if he is younger than the girl. Taken to further extremes, if a teenager gives another teen a hickey (technically an "injury"), he or she is guilty of aggravated child molestation the way this statute was drafted. Clearly, this was not the legislative intent. In fact, no high school boy or girl has EVER been charged with child molestation of a classmate less than three years his or her junior, until Marcus. Never. In the history of Georgia, Marcus is the only one in prison for consensual sex with a girl less than three years younger.

While the jury found him guilty, they had no idea of the consequences. They assumed Marcus would be released immediately. In the jurors own words, the look of horror across their faces when the judge sentenced Marcus to ten years minimum could be seen by everyone. They never knew the consequences. They could not fathom that a boy could go to jail for consensual sex, and certainly not for 10 years with no possibility of parole. And yet he has.

Why the prosecutor charged him under a statute that was clearly designed to apply to adult sexual predators of minors is beyond understanding. How the judge could allow the charge to stand is unconscionable. What their motives or rationalizations, one can only speculate. This is the kind of injustice that we Americans like to think is reserved for third world countries.

Origins:   The facts of the case as presented in the e-mail are not in dispute: A young black man is serving a lengthy sentence for having had sex with an underage girl. In May 2003, Marcus Dixon was given a mandatory ten-year sentence for having been physically intimate with a girl two years, seven months, and eighteen days his junior — at the time of the incident (which took place in February 2003) she was 15-3/4 years old and he was 18-1/3. The girl was also white.

The online community has come to hear of the case through e-mailed exhortations to support Mr. Dixon's cause, and from web sites such as the now defunct helpmarcus.com and www.act4justice.com. These entreaties present the matter as one of an overly harsh penalty being applied in a case where little or no penalty should have been imposed, and assert the sole reason for such prosecution was racism — a black teen boy had a physical romance with a white teen girl, and the authorities went after him for it. While that indeed might be what happened, there are other explanations that should be examined and considered. This is not as clear-cut a case as it has been made out to be.

Although engaging in sexual relations with an underage partner is generally a punishable offense in every state, latitude is usually granted in consensual instances where the two parties are reasonably close in age. Many states in the U.S. have "Romeo and Juliet" laws that make sexual relations with a minor a lesser crime if both parties are teenagers. Marcus Dixon, however, was convicted of aggravated child molestation and statutory rape, the former a felony carrying a mandatory ten-year sentence in Georgia. He was acquitted of charges of forcible rape, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and sexual battery arising from the same incident.

Most accounts of this case recount the horrible circumstances of Mr. Dixon's early upbringing, stress his considerable scholastic and athletic record, and remind readers if this conviction is not overturned, this young man will not only have to serve a full ten-year prison sentence, but he will forever be branded as a child molestor and be made to register as a sex offender in any community he moves to. While all that is true, the following passage gleaned from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article gives pause because it presents the jailed student in a less flattering light:

Prosecutors contended Dixon was a sexual predator. They presented evidence that the 6-foot-6, 270-pound football star had been suspended twice from Pepperell High School for sexual activity. Neither case was reported to police, and Dixon never was charged with a crime. But jurors were told he had been suspended for exposing himself in a classroom in 2001 and inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl after track practice in 2002.

Following Marcus Dixon's conviction, the unnamed girl involved in the incident that led to his prosecution did attempt to sue the school for $5 million on the basis of those two previous incidents, arguing if the police had been called in for either of them, or if the school had properly punished Mr. Dixon for them, she might not have been molested. These two other incidents are also not in dispute — the school's defense against the girl's lawsuit was not that these other two episodes hadn't happened, but rather that the school shouldn't have been held liable for them.

It's hard to know what to make of the jurors in the Dixon case. Did they render the right verdicts on each of the six charges? Did they even understand the charges? At least four of them later said they did not expect such a severe sentence for the aggravated child molestation charge they found against Mr. Dixon, yet that crime carries a mandatory ten-year prison term.

As for why the jury did not convict on any of the rape charges, one of the jurors afterwards reported the jury did not consider a guilty verdict because the victim "didn't scream, didn't make any noise, didn't turn over the table or anything." While fighting back can be taken as proof of non-consent, its lack does not necessarily prove the opposite. How much fighting back could a typical 15-year-old girl do against an 18-year-old, 6-foot-6, 270-pound athlete? Would she even be inclined to try, given that she knew no one was around to hear her cries and come to her assistance? Or would she conclude that attempting to resist would only get her harmed even more?

Those agitating for the Dixon conviction to be overturned see this as an instance of two lusty teens who engaged in consensual sexual relations, something that should hardly be viewed as a crime even if one of the pair of lovebirds was technically a minor (15) while the other was fully an adult (18). However, prosecutors in the case are unwavering in their assertion the sex act was not consensual, and that the unnamed girl was forcibly raped. Whereas many of the popular accounts present the matter as one of an angered girlfriend crying foul and then shamefacedly changing her mind, the victim in this case has not withdrawn her claim of having been forced into sex. According to her account, which police and prosecutors appear to believe, she was taken by surprise while working as a student custodian after school in an on-campus trailer being used as a classroom. She testified that prior to the assault she and Marcus Dixon barely knew one another, and that she had never spoken more than a few words to him. She said she didn't scream or cry out for help "because I was afraid he'd hurt me." Yet Mr. Dixon claims a romantic liaison in which he suggested they go to his place, but she demurred (citing that someone might see them together and alert her racist father as the reason for that choice not being on the table), so they instead made out in a classroom trailer after school.

In this hall of mirrors that is the Marcus Dixon case I am nagged by two points that might or might not form the crux of the consensual sex versus rape issue. Prior to the sex act with Mr. Dixon, the girl in question was a virgin. (Her loss of virginity, after all, was the physical damage upon which the aggravated child molestation charge was hung.) Also, it appears the two barely knew one another. (Marcus and the girl were in the same Home Economics class, yet beyond that no one seems to have pointed out where their paths could have intersected, let alone offered anything that would support the notion of their keeping company with one another as boyfriend and girlfriend.) Many girls want their first time to be special and so reserve it for, if not a husband, at least a boyfriend of some significance. Did this girl choose to have her first time in the non-romantic setting of a deserted classroom, with a guy she'd hardly exchanged hellos with?

There are two distinct ways of looking at the case. From one vantage point, a black teen romantically entangled with a white girl has been put behind bars for a decade for no better reason than that someone judged him to be the wrong color. From another angle, a 15-year-old girl raped by a significantly larger and stronger 18-year-old man with a history of sexually predatory behavior saw her attacker sent to jail not because
a jury believed she had been raped, but because a jury fortuitously mishandled one of the lesser charges brought against her attacker.

Were the prosecutors in the case unbridled racists set on imprisoning a black man for engaging in sex with a white girl, no matter what it took to put him away? Or were they non-bigots trying to jail a rapist in a case which (lacking other evidence) would ultimately come down to a "he said; she said" evaluation on the part of a jury, so they threw in every charge they could, hoping at least one would stick?

The case is now on appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court. Perhaps it will make better sense of it.

Updates: On 3 May 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court court overturned Marcus Dixon's conviction on the charge of aggravated child molestation (a charge which comes with a mandatory ten-year sentence), ruling that he should have been prosecuted only on the lesser charge of statutory rape, a misdemeanor. (The court allowed his conviction on the lesser charge to stand.) A lower court then ruled that Dixon had already fulfilled his sentence for the misdemeanor charge of statutory rape.

In June 2005, the Floyd County Board of Education agreed to pay a $130,000 settlement to Marcus Dixon's accuser:

The family had filed a federal lawsuit against the school system, claiming that improper punishment of Dixon for prior sexual offenses created "an unreasonable risk" for the then-15-year-old girl that resulted in her "eventual sexual assault."

One of those past offenses resulted in a sexual battery charge stemming from an accusation that Dixon forced his hand down a 14-year-old's track shorts in 2002. That case was never prosecuted.

The original lawsuit sought $5 million as well as punitive damages, attorneys' fees and compensation for the victim's medical and psychological treatment. When asked if he felt the settlement awarded was adequate, [Cartersville attorney Mike] Prieto replied: "I don't think that a young lady can ever be adequately compensated for something like this."

Also in June 2005, Paramount Pictures announced plans to make a movie about Marcus Dixon's struggles to overturn his controversial 10-year prison sentence, although the Dixon family has reportedly not yet signed a deal with the studio.

Barbara "Georgia on my mind" Mikkelson

Last updated:   23 June 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Arey, Norman.   "Teenager's Appeal to High Court to Attack Sentencing Guidelines."

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   20 January 2004   (p. B1).

    Arey, Norman.   "Ex-Star Athlete Guilty in Sex Case."

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   16 May 2003   (p. C4).

    Dadigan, Marc.   "Dixon Suit Settled for $130,000."

    Rome News-Tribune.   14 June 2005.

    Edelman, Marian Wright.   "Old South Lingers in a Legal Lynching."

    Los Angeles Times.   22 January 2004   (p. B17).

    Gregory, Lauren.   "Accuser Gets Settlement from System."

    Rome News-Tribune.   11 June 2005.

    Gregory, Lauren.   "Marcus Dixon Movie Possible."

    Rome News-Tribune.   11 June 2005.

    Jacobs, Andrew.   "Student Sex Case in Georgia Stirs Claims of Old South Justice."

    The New York Times.   22 January 2004   (p. A14).

    Milloy, Courtland.   "Marcus Dixon Doesn't Belong In Ga. Prison."

    The Washington Post.   25 January 2004   (p. C1).

    Wooten, Jim.   "Home Life, Not Racism, the Problem."

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   27 January 2004   (p. A9).

    Associated Press.   "Floyd County Schools Ask Federal Court to Throw Out Lawsuit in School Statutory Rape Case."

    12 September 2003.

    Associated Press.   "Georgia High Court Overturns Teen's Sentence for Having Sex with Minor."

    CNN.com   3 May 2004.

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