Marquis Dixon, an Albany student given nine years in prison for a sneaker robbery, is serving his sentence at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison.
Dixon is just 17 years old. Most of the other prisoners at Coxsackie are adults.
Dixon stole Nikes. Many of his fellow inmates are murderers, rapists and other hard-core criminals.
I’ve written before about Dixon, the flimsy evidence that got him convicted and his outrageously long prison sentence. But I was prompted to write again about his case after reading about Kalief Browder’s suicide last weekend.
Browder’s story is horrifying and surreal, like something out of Kafka. He was victimized by a brutally indifferent bureaucracy, yes, but also by the insane way that New York state treats some juvenile defenders.
Browder spent three years in Rikers waiting for a trial that never came. He spent roughly two of those years in solitary confinement. Security video from inside Rikers, obtained by The New Yorker, which made Browder’s story nationally infamous, shows him being beaten by guards and inmates.
There are differences between the Browder and Dixon cases, but also remarkable parallels.
Both were 16 when accused of their crimes. Both were poor.
Instead of sneakers, Browder allegedly stole a backpack. Both cases rested on the claims of one accuser, with no eyewitnesses or video evidence.
A man accused Browder of striking him in the face before the theft, and he was subsequently charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault.
A 17-year-old from southern Albany County accused Dixon after the two arranged to meet outside the McDonald’s on South Pearl Street so Dixon could buy the Nikes. He left without paying for them.
The accuser claimed Dixon lifted his shirt to reveal something glossy that may have been a weapon, leading to a charge of robbery in the first degree.
Dixon insisted he never had a weapon or anything like one, and investigators never found evidence to prove otherwise. Police found the sneakers, but not a gun, when they searched his family’s South End home.
The case against Browder fell apart when the accuser disappeared.
The case against Dixon almost never happened, because his accuser didn’t report the crime. Police were called only after a school counselor overheard students talking about the theft.
Browder and Dixon both rejected plea deals, insisting they were falsely charged.