In the months since a masked gunman bound and robbed them, a Franklin couple’s life has changed completely.
After 70 years of marriage, Ella Mae and Clayton Dixon can no longer live together after he was sent to an assisted living facility.
In a county courtroom, Ella Mae Dixon described the changes in her husband after the robbery May 15, when they came home to find a gunman in their home who bound them with duct tape, stole money, guns and their car and left. In the days after, Clayton Dixon spoke harshly and cursed at his wife — something he had never done before — accused their son of robbing them and sat in his chair, not speaking, with a gun at his feet, she said.
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He spent four weeks at a hospital in Anderson, and by their 70th anniversary in June, Clayton Dixon was living in an assisted living facility, she told the court.
Ella Mae Dixon was one of three people to testify on the first day of the bench trial for Reese L. Keith, 28, who is charged with burglary with a deadly weapon, robbery, criminal confinement, robbery resulting in bodily injury, criminal confinement with a deadly weapon and theft.
On Friday, after hearing from Dixon, along with a doctor and nurse who treated Keith that day, the trial was put on hold until at least next month. The prosecution was ready to present their case, but the defense wanted more time to prepare for the scientific portion of the case, and had asked for the trial to be postponed, Prosecutor Brad Cooper said. The judge denied that request, and instead had the prosecution present the facts of the case, and delayed the scientific portion of the case, Cooper said.
Johnson County Superior Court 2 Judge Peter Nugent set a hearing for Nov. 9, when prosecutors and defense attorneys will discuss when to resume the trial. Keith will remain in jail, Cooper said.
Keith was arrested nearly a week after the robbery following a manhunt by Franklin police and U.S. Marshals that eventually led them to Richmond.
Police first encountered Keith when he ran from a crash on State Road 135 on May 14. He had needles in his pockets and drug paraphernalia in the stolen vehicle he was driving, possibly overdosed and had a seizure. Greenwood police took him to the hospital twice, and on the third trip, a doctor at Johnson Memorial Hospital decided to admit him.
Ten hours after the incident began, a Greenwood police supervisor decided officers should leave Keith at the hospital in Franklin and ask for a warrant for his arrest, rather than wait for him to be discharged and take him to jail. Keith was last seen at the hospital at 4:25 a.m. May 15, and was wearing a hospital gown and his IV was still attached when he left.
The case led to a new policy that requires officers to contact the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office, who will then seek permission from a judge as to whether a suspect in the hospital can be left unsupervised.
Police said Keith got into the Dixon’s home, which is about a block away from the hospital, by breaking a window. Detectives searching the home found a hospital gown and a hospital identification bracelet with the name of Keith Reese, which Keith used as an alias, in the garage, according to court records.
Ella Mae Dixon never saw the face of the man who broke into her home and held her at gunpoint, she told the court. The couple returned home from running errands around 4:30 p.m. May 15 and walked in to find a man wearing Clayton Dixon’s clothing, with a ski mask over his face, pointing their son’s collectible rifle at them, she told the court.
“We were expecting to see our dog, but instead we saw him,” she said.
She immediately tried to call 911, but the man took her phone from her. Clayton Dixon was going to try to fight with the man, wanting to protect his wife, but she told him to sit down, fearing he would get hurt, Ella Mae Dixon told the court.
The man then used a roll of duct tape the couple had in the home to bound their hands. He tied Clayton Dixon to a chair, which he put in the hallway so they couldn’t be seen from outside, and tied Ella Mae Dixon to her walker.
The man told them he was on drugs and someone was after him, she told the court. He told the couple he had slept in their garage overnight. She also found food missing from their refrigerator, and believes the man fixed himself a sandwich and a glass of milk, she told the court.
Ella Mae Dixon talked to the man about Christianity, asked him if he would actually shoot a 90-year-old man and told him that the couple would soon celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary, a statement she said she knew impacted him because of the emotion she saw on his face, she said.
The man then took cash from her purse and her husband’s wallet, three guns from their gun cabinet and the keys to their vehicle — saying he would leave the car in Greenwood with the keys inside, she told the court.
After the man left, Clayton Dixon was able to get to the pocket knife he always carried and spent an hour working to free himself from the tape. Ella Mae Dixon tried to get to the phone or the door but couldn’t. Once her husband had freed himself, they called police, she said.
Both suffered bruises from the tape and were sore, but their physical injuries were not permanent, she told the court.
But in the days after the robbery, Ella Mae Dixon saw changes in her husband. He would sit in his chair, not watching TV and not speaking. When he did speak to her, he was mean and told her he wanted a divorce, which he had never said before. He called police to report that one of their sons had robbed them, she said.
She called their minister of 20 years and their doctor, who said Clayton Dixon should be evaluated. He was referred to a hospital in Anderson. When the driver came to their home, he asked Clayton Dixon if he wanted to go somewhere and feel better, and Clayton Dixon got up and got into the ambulance to leave, Ella Mae Dixon said.
Clayton Dixon hasn’t been back home since, she said, and is now living in an assisted living facility. While he had been taking medication for dementia before the robbery, Clayton Dixon had been able to drive and the two would routinely go to breakfast together nearly every morning, she said.
“The life we had for 70 years has ended,” she said.