College was the goal of a star athlete. Instead, he was convicted on two charges in a statutory rape. To some, he is a victim of the Old South.
Ellen Barry, L. A. Times, Feb. 16
ROME, Ga. — At the age of 12, Marcus Dixon left his old neighborhood in Rome. The van that picked him up from his grandmother’s took him south, past the Piggly Wiggly that marks the invisible line between the city and the predominantly white suburbs.
Dixon, who is black, was clear about his goals. No boy growing up in northwest Georgia could miss the annual ritual of Signing Day, when high school football stars, flanked by beaming coaches, announced which college scholarships they had accepted. As Dixon saw it, the path to that scholarship led straight to the suburb of Lindale, whose high school is about 94% white.
Pepperell High School was the place where his dream crystallized — and where it collapsed.
Last year, on Feb. 5, Dixon — a popular, 18-year-old defensive lineman and straight-A student — accepted a scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. A week later, a 15-year-old white classmate told authorities that Dixon had raped her on school grounds. Although he was acquitted on the rape charge, Dixon was convicted of statutory rape and received a mandatory 10-year sentence for a second charge, aggravated child molestation.
His scholarship was rescinded and he was sent to prison.
Dixon’s case is now before Georgia’s Supreme Court, which will decide whether he was charged and sentenced inappropriately. A decision is expected within the next three months.
In the meantime, Dixon’s case has become a celebrated one, attracting high-profile legal advocates who depict him as a victim of Old South justice. Dixon’s defenders argue that relationships between black men and white women are still so frowned on in this region that the prosecutor was overzealous in charging him — and the mandatory minimum sentence, intended for adult sexual predators, sealed his fate.
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