A Philadelphia man whose 2012 murder conviction was overturned this month was cleared of all remaining charges Thursday after prosecutors said they would not seek to retry him because of the key role a now-disgraced former homicide detective played in the investigation.
Rafiq Dixon, 40, who had been serving a life sentence, was released from prison Thursday afternoon. He said in an interview afterward that his newfound freedom had not yet set in.
“I’m feeling good, man. It’s a blessing,” he said by phone shortly after leaving State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County. “I knew I wasn’t going to give up fighting.”
Earlier Thursday, Dixon’s family members hugged in a courthouse hallway after a brief hearing during which Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom granted a request by the District Attorney’s Office to withdraw the charges against him.
His father, Collin Dixon, 65, said afterward that he was grateful his son would be coming home soon.
“It’s a blessing for my son to be released back into society to be with his family, especially for his young sons, who need to be with their father,” the elder Dixon said.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Garmisa told Ransom the case against Dixon was “frankly quite weak” to begin with, largely dependent on three witnesses who offered inconsistent testimony while accusing Dixon of fatally shooting Joseph Pinkney on a West Philadelphia street corner in 2011. All of those witnesses, prosecutors said, were interviewed by Homicide Detective Philip Nordo, who has since been charged with multiple crimes, including raping and sexually assaulting witnesses while manipulating cases for more than a decade.
Prosecutors did not accuse Nordo of such behavior in Dixon’s case but said the “questionable” evidence used at Dixon’s first trial, combined with Nordo’s history of misconduct, made it impossible for them to move forward and prosecute Dixon again.
“Had the jury known about even a fraction of Nordo’s misconduct and/or issues regarding his credibility, that knowledge could have made the difference between conviction and acquittal,” prosecutors wrote in court documents supporting Dixon’s release.
The dismissal marks at least the fifth time the District Attorney’s Office has helped overturn a case connected to Nordo. And it comes just weeks before Nordo is expected to stand trial for his alleged crimes.
The former star detective was arrested in 2019 and charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, and related crimes. He has denied wrongdoing and is scheduled stand trial in May.
Not everyone agreed with the decision to drop charges against Dixon. Garmisa said in court that the victim’s sister told him months ago that she opposed his release. She did not appear in court Thursday, but Garmisa said she told him Dixon was trying to “jump on [Nordo’s] case” and take advantage of the scandal to secure his freedom.
Attempts to reach Pinkney’s relatives Thursday were not successful.
Dixon was accused of fatally shooting Pinkney on the 5100 block of Race Street 11 years ago. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. At trial, prosecutors relied heavily on three witnesses — two who said they saw Dixon pull the trigger, and one who offered a motive, saying Dixon had been seeking revenge against Pinkney because Pinkney had sold him a defective cell phone and had threatened his mother.
Jurors deliberated for four days before voting to convict Dixon of first-degree murder
On appeal, the Superior Court found in 2019 that the eyewitness testimony in the case was “riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions,” but stopped short of overturning the conviction. That happened earlier this month, when a Common Pleas Court judge ruled that Dixon’s trial lawyer was ineffective for not calling an alibi witness to testify.
Prosecutors said Thursday that those issues, coupled with Nordo’s problematic history, made the case impossible to continue prosecuting and said it was their “obligation” to dismiss the charges.
Dixon’s appellate lawyer, Craig Cooley, said prosecutors “did the right thing,” and he said he was eager to see Dixon released and reunited with his parents, siblings, and children as a free man.
“I’m happy with the outcome and look forward to Rafiq moving on with his life,” Cooley said.