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Slaying suspect described as ‘creepy’

Maryland teenager faces death penalty in August murder

POSTED: November 29, 2007 5:04 a.m.

Growing up in Maryland, he was the polite, friendly neighborhood kid. In high school, he was the unruly, black-attired outcast. In Gainesville, he was regarded as a creepy stranger, and later, a jailhouse troublemaker.

Now, at 19, at a time when many his age are toiling over college term papers or learning the ropes of their first full-time jobs, Allan Robert Dickie is facing the prospect of death by lethal injection.

In his relatively brief three-month stay at the Hall County Jail, he's built a reputation among detention officers as a difficult inmate. Deputies say he started a fire in his jail cell, and a mug shot shows he tattooed the word "IT," preceded by a four-letter obscenity, in inch-high letters on his forehead.

By the time he appeared in Hall County Superior Court on Wednesday, the jailhouse tattoo had faded some but remained visible.

Those who knew Dickie before he became a murder defendant, charged in the rape and stabbing death of a homeless woman late one August night outside a Gainesville supermarket, alternately describe him as seemingly normal and disturbingly odd.

"It's just so hard to understand," said former neighbor Michele Reed of Pasadena, Md. She has a son Dickie's age and remembers the defendant since he was in kindergarten. "I would never, out of all my son's friends, figure he would do something like this."

"He was pretty strange, but none of us expected this," said former high school classmate Shelly Neighoff.

Dickie was one of a steady stream of shabbily dressed street people who used the Hall County Library System's main downtown branch for computer access, according to library director Adrian Mixson.

Dickie began showing up at the library about two weeks before his Aug. 26 arrest, logging on to the Internet to access his account on Myspace, a popular social networking site that allows users to post personal information and communicate with others.

Dickie's user name on the site was "Chipmunk the Almighty," a reference to his high school nickname, "Chipmunk," according to Neighoff, a former classmate of Dickie's from Glenburnie, Md.

"He sent me a weird message on Myspace that I didn't want to answer," Neighoff said. She said she briefly gave Dickie a place to stay before he left Maryland about a month prior to his arrest.

"He said he was traveling the country and there was a drug reference in (the message)," Neighoff said. "He said he was with a friend trying stuff. It's weird, because I was trying to figure out how he got to Georgia. He did some kind of homeless traveling.".

Mixson, the library director, said Dickie unnerved his staffers. "They just felt he was kind of creepy," he said.

Grim discovery
At 7:15 on the morning of Aug. 26, Enrique Ochoa-Lupain arrived at the Supermercado Carillo on Pearl Nix Parkway to begin preparations for opening the store. He noticed blood spots on the ground near a loading dock and followed the drops to the back of the building, where he found the lifeless body of a black female. Her neck, head, left hand and other parts of her body were covered in stab wounds.

When Gainesville police arrived, they found perhaps the best piece of evidence they could ever want in a homicide investigation: A surveillance camera set up at the loading dock had recorded at least part of the crime. Police were able to glean from the video a solid description of their suspect, which they soon posted as a "be on the lookout" radio bulletin.

Around 11 a.m., a Hall County deputy saw Dickie walking in the area of Jesse Jewell Parkway and Branch Street. Dickie, who matched the description of the lookout, was taken into custody and driven to the Gainesville Police Department, where he was questioned, and then charged with murder.
Officials say the circumstances of the murder were particularly brutal.

The victim, 37-year-old Claudia Toppin, who had relatives in the Atlanta area, had only been in Gainesville a few days. She planned to take a bus from Gainesville to Florida, where a family member lived, according to Gainesville Police Lt. Brian Kelly.

At some point on the Aug. 25, she went to the Salvation Army shelter on Dorsey Street to inquire about a bed, Kelly said. Then she walked to the bus station on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but was unable to purchase a ticket, Kelly said. When she returned to the shelter, there were no vacancies, he said.

Sometime after that, she crossed paths with Dickie, who authorities think she may have encountered before. They ended up at the loading dock area of the shiny new Hispanic supermarket, less than a mile from the shelter.

What followed was at least partially captured on surveillance video, but has not been fully detailed publicly by authorities. An indictment returned in October by a Hall County grand jury charges Dickie with kidnapping with bodily injury, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and murder, alleging Toppin sustained multiple stab wounds.

District Attorney Lee Darragh, when asked why he was seeking the death penalty, said the facts of the case were the primary consideration.

Outcast with a knife
Michele Reed remembers a gentle little boy who sat in her kitchen when he was in elementary school, chatty but polite.

"He was just your normal kid," said Reed, who lives two doors down from the Dickies in Pasadena, Md. "Allan was appreciative of anything and everything he was given. When he was 16, Allan would be excited that he got a new bicycle. He was a joy to have around."

Sometime during his teens, however, his life took a turn for the worse. "I heard he was kicked out of the house," Reed said. "I heard rumors he was living in the woods near my house. I went out to look for him once. Then he disappeared for a while. When he showed up again, his hair was cut really short."

Neighoff, who attended Chesapeake High School with Dickie before he dropped out in the 11th grade, recalled him as "a pretty weird kid."

"He was always kind of goofy, and he annoyed the crap out of a lot of people," she said. "He was never shy. He became sort of an outcast to a lot of people. But sometimes it was good to have him around for comic relief. He had an odd sense of humor."

Neighoff remembers going to Dickie's house, where he would practice with a band, playing bass guitar, until his parents kicked him out.

"I never asked his parents why," she said. "I know he didn't hold a job. He wasn't really doing anything. I know he smoked pot a lot. I'm assuming he was lazy and a bit of a troublemaker, and they kicked him out."

In school, Dickie would eat pencils and perform other off-the-wall, attention-grabbing stunts, said one former classmate who did not want her name used in this article. "I guess there was something really wrong with him," she said. "Everybody knew him, but he was really out there."

At the time he dropped out of Chesapeake High, he told friends he was encouraged by school administrators to leave, Neighoff said. "He said they told him that was probably the best thing for him to do," she said.

Former classmates remember Dickie's customary attire: ripped black jeans, black trench coat and black, steel-toed boots. "He took pride in those boots," she said.

Dickie also took pride in the pocket knife he kept clipped to his pants, she said. "He was always quick to show off his knife, and let you know he had one," she said. "He would just randomly pull it out and show it to people."

Jail arson, new tattoo
During the recent transfer of more than 500 inmates from the old Hall County jail to the new facility, Dickie, like some other murder defendants, was deemed high-risk and driven individually in a patrol car rather than loaded into a bus with other inmates.

On Oct. 29, prior to the move, Dickie managed to deface an electrical light switch, put the wires together to create an arc and set his jail-issued shirt on fire, Hall Sheriff's officials said.

The offense earned him additional charges of arson and interference with government property. A mug shot taken on the day of the incident shows Dickie glaring into the camera with the new, confrontational tattoo emblazoned across his forehead.

On Wednesday, Dickie appeared normal and calm as he sat with attorneys during a brief court hearing held to decide which judge would preside over his death penalty case.

The case is likely to involve defense motions questioning Dickie's sanity or mental aptitude and his criminal intent in Toppin's death.

Reed, the former neighbor who said she was "devastated" by Dickie's arrest, thinks the jailhouse antics are evidence he is "crying out for help." "I think Allan has emotional, psychological and mental problems," she said.

Defense attorneys, prosecutors and police are not commenting on Dickie or the pending case. Efforts to reach the murder victim's family have been unsuccessful.

In an e-mail, Reed wrote that her son, Nick, is distraught over his former friend's arrest. "He cannot get Allan off his mind, and neither can I," she said. "We both wish we could have done something, or that we could have seen this coming."



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