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'Justice has been done' - DAs, law enforcement reflect on convictions in Dixon trial
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Those inside a packed Hall County Superior Courtroom listen as the verdict is read Thursday, July 1, 2021, for Hector Garcia-Solis, Eric Velazquez and London Clements. - photo by Scott Rogers

Two years of preparation, six days of evidence, four hours of jury deliberations.

Though the murder trial for Hall County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon is over, the case has left an indelible impression on Chief Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance.

“We lived this case for two years,” Vance said of the prosecution team including Assistant District Attorneys Kelley Robertson and Harold Buckler. “We agonized over the heartbreak and the horror of it and also the strategy and the best way to seek justice. Our job is to seek justice — not just to win but to really do the right thing.”

A jury Thursday found all three men accused in the Dixon murder guilty on all charges.

The jury deliberated a total of about four hours before returning to a packed courtroom at noon July 1 to read the verdict.

Dixon's family could be seen embracing as the defendants were escorted out a secure corridor.

Vance said the case was the biggest she has ever handled, walking the jury through more than 600 pieces of evidence in the two-week trial.

“What really hit me was that Blane really did die trying to make the community safer and the world better and to protect people,” Vance said.

Vance said it was a true team effort between her, her fellow attorneys and the law enforcement members investigating the murder and the series of burglaries the day before.

“This case will never leave me,” Vance said. “I will always remember this case and I will always remember how horrific it was and also heartbreaking in every way. But I feel like the verdict has made the community safer. Our work made the community safer, ultimately, and enforces the rule of law.”

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Chief Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance gives a closing statement Wednesday, June 30, 2021, to jury members in Hall County Superior Court during the murder trial concerning the death of Hall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon nears an end. - photo by Scott Rogers

Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Charles Hewell, Dixon’s supervisor who was with him that night and involved in the shootout, said he felt relief as the verdict came down. He hugged and shook hands with some of the officers in the courtroom to thank them for their hard work in the case.

Hewell was called to the stand to deliver emotional testimony regarding the pursuit that night, which ended in an exchange of gunfire between Garcia-Solis and law enforcement on Highland Avenue.

“Without a doubt, it was tough,” Hewell said about revisiting the events on the stand. “It was hard reliving that night and the vast emotions that came with that. But I would go through that a million times over again to be able to tell our story of that night to give Blane justice. That emotional grief is nothing compared to the heroism and the sacrifice that he gave that night.”

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Sgt. Charles Hewell of the Hall County Sheriff's Office recalls on the stand in Hall County Superior Court Friday, June 25, 2021 the events the night Hall County Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon was shot and killed while chasing burglary suspects in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said he was able to watch most of the trial either in person or through the livestream made available by the court, sometimes listening to it on his radio.

“Blane Dixon’s death, it remains a very raw and emotional wound for all the men and women here at the Sheriff’s Office, especially the Dixon family, and it always will be,” Couch said. “But I hope this is one way that we can see that justice is going to be served in this situation.”

Couch said Dixon truly was a “guardian of the peace.”

“He came in every day with a good attitude,” the sheriff said. “You could tell that his heart was fully committed to this profession and wanted to serve. I truly believe that there’s those among us with hearts that God chooses to infuse with the spirit of service and guardianship, and Blane’s heart was certainly one of those.”

Dixon and Couch
Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon, left, and Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch. - photo by Hall County Sheriff's Office

Hewell said he hopes that people, especially those in Hall County, remember the sacrifice that Dixon made.

Vance said she had met, talked and cried with the Dixon family for the past two years while working the case, adding she appreciated the trust they gave the prosecution.

“I personally feel for his parents in a way that I think that anyone who’s a parent has. I can’t imagine anything more horrific than losing a child,” she said. “Even though he was an adult and he was a police officer and all of law enforcement is hurting and the whole community is hurting, I can’t imagine what that pain is like for a parent.”

Lee Darragh
Lee Darragh, District attorney of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said the prosecution was “very grateful” for the jury’s verdict.

“Justice has been done through their verdict for Blane Dixon,” he said.

Darragh commended the work of  Vance and assistant district attorneys Robertson and Buckler.

“They and all of the team that worked so hard on this case are simply unsurpassed in their ability, and our community owes a great debt to them for their dedication and their willingness to work as hard as they did in this case … to make sure that justice is done for our citizens,” he said.

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Hector Garcia-Solis shows no emotion as the guilty verdicts are read Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Hall County Superior Court. A jury deliberated four hours before returning guilty verdicts for all three suspects accused in the shooting death of Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon guilty on all charges. - photo by Scott Rogers

Darragh said the prosecution was “confident that Judge Deal will sentence appropriately in the case.”

He previously told The Times that the death penalty was not possible because all of the defendants were 17 at the time of the shooting.

A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision forbade the use of the death penalty for those under the age of 18.

Darragh said the maximum penalty for each defendant will be life without a chance of parole.

If life with a chance for parole is the sentence, parole cannot be considered for at least 30 years.

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Hector Garcia-Solis holds his head while testifying Tuesday at his murder trial in the death of Hall County Sheriff's Office Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon. Garcia-Solis admitted on the stand that he fired the shot that killed Dixon. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hector Garcia-Solis and Eric Velazquez were found guilty of malice murder in the July 7, 2019, death of Dixon. Co-defendant London Clements was found guilty of felony murder, which still carries a similar maximum punishment of life in prison.

Garcia-Solis was found guilty on the following charges:

  • malice murder

  • felony murder predicated on aggravated assault on a peace officer

  • felony murder predicated on conspiracy

  • aggravated assault on a peace officer

  • conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary

  • burglary in the second degree, 6 counts

  • entering an automobile

  • criminal attempt to commit burglary, second degree

  • theft by receiving stolen property

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Eric Velazquez enters Hall County Superior Court Thursday, July 1, 2021, as the jury prepares to brings the verdict. - photo by Scott Rogers

Velazquez was found guilty on the following charges:

  • malice murder

  • felony murder predicated on aggravated assault on a peace officer

  • felony murder predicated on conspiracy

  • aggravated assault on a peace officer

  • conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary

  • theft by receiving stolen property

  • burglary in the second degree, 6 counts

  • entering an automobile

  • criminal attempt to commit burglary, second degree

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London Clements is led away from Hall County Superior Court Thursday, July 1, 2021, following a guilty verdict for felony murder in the shooting death of Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon. - photo by Scott Rogers

Clements was found guilty on the following charges:

  • felony murder predicated on conspiracy

  • conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary

The charges concerned a spree of burglaries at pawn shops and car dealerships in the early hours of July 6, 2019, and the fatal shooting of Dixon the night after. Garcia-Solis admitted on the stand Tuesday, June 29, that he was the one on the body cam footage shooting at Dixon.

Superior Court Judge Jason Deal heard arguments Tuesday, for a directed verdict on three of Clements’ charges — malice murder, aggravated assault on a peace officer and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault on a peace officer — meaning the jury would not consider these. The judge granted the motion, writing in the order that the court “finds that the state has failed to present sufficient evidence to support the charges” in these three counts.

Sentencing is set for July 8.

Day-by-day coverage

Catch up on the background of the trial, which The Times has covered daily.

Darragh did not say what the plan was for co-defendant Brayan Cruz, who had his case severed before trial, given that it is still an open case. Cruz testified for the prosecution last week, though there were no offers made for the testimony.

Velazquez’s defense attorney, Jason Wilson said that he hated how “Hector’s actions have really destroyed so many people’s lives,” from Dixon and his family now to his two co-defendants.

Calling himself a “believer of redemption,” Wilson didn’t think it was right that Clements and Velazquez are facing the possibility of decades behind bars.

Garcia-Solis’ defense attorney Matt Cavedon declined to comment Friday, July 2, and Clements’ attorney Dan Sammons did not return requests for comment Thursday and Friday.

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