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Man pleads guilty to escape death penalty
Dickie charged in 2007 rape and murder
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal listens as Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh delivers a statement Friday during a plea hearing for Allan Robert Dickie, who pleaded guilty in the August 2007 rape and stabbing death of Claudia Toppin. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Allan Robert Dickie’s crimes — stabbing a woman more than 30 times, then sexually assaulting her as she lay dying — made him a prime candidate for the death penalty.

But his mind, with a long history of psychosis, audible hallucinations and delusions, became the deciding factor in his avoidance of a trial that could have ended with a death sentence.

Dickie, 21, pleaded guilty Friday to murder, rape and other offenses in the August 2007 stabbing death of Claudia Toppin, a 37-year-old woman he met after drifting into Gainesville from Pasadena, Md.

Following the terms of the negotiated plea agreement, Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal sentenced Dickie to life without the possibility of parole, plus three consecutive life sentences, plus 20 years.

"You cannot begin to imagine how many lives are
shattered because of what you’ve done," said Toppin’s husband John Toppin, one of 15 family members who were in court for Friday’s plea hearing. "You took more than a life — you took an entire family."

District Attorney Lee Darragh told the judge that Toppin, the mother of six children, was going through a difficult time in her life when she met Dickie. She had recently lost her home and was planning to take a bus from Gainesville to Florida to stay with a cousin "until she could get back on her feet," Darragh said.

"Very sadly, Ms. Toppin was a lady on her way up," Darragh said. "She had fallen quite low."

In late August 2007, Toppin and Dickie met on the streets of Gainesville. The two were seen around town together by several people and unsuccessfully tried to get rooms at the local Salvation Army shelter and the American Best Value motel, Darragh said.

A relative who spoke with Toppin by phone asked about the man’s voice she heard in the background, and Toppin replied that she "felt like she would be safe" with Dickie, the prosecutor said.

Late on the night of Aug. 26, 2007, the two ended up together near the loading dock of Supermercado Carrillo, a Pearl Nix Parkway supermarket, where they stayed for several hours.

"Rather unexpectedly, the defendant began stabbing Ms. Toppin," with a knife stolen from a Gainesville AutoZone store, Darragh said.

The stabbing and the ensuing sexual assault were recorded on a surveillance video camera outside the store. Had the case gone to trial, a jury likely would have been asked to watch the video of the murder.

But nearly two years after filing notice of intent to seek the death penalty, Darragh agreed to a plea deal that ensures Dickie will never be released from prison.

Darragh said he made the decision after Dickie’s attorneys gave him convincing medical evidence that Dickie suffers from severe mental health problems, including schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Dickie was first diagnosed as bipolar in his early teens, and has a history of behavioral problems, depression, suicidal tendencies and paranoid self-mutilation, Darragh said.

Dickie drew attention to himself at the Hall County jail when he tattooed a four-letter profanity followed by the word "IT" in inch-high letters across his forehead. The tattoo remains visible.

Darragh said that reports by experts and medical histories provided by the defense detailed psychotic symptoms that included hallucinations and delusions.

"These are apparently things that have been happening for some time," Darragh said, adding he was satisfied the symptoms were not being faked as a defense strategy. "He apparently has heard voices constantly when not taking his medications."

At least twice since the murder, Dickie told authorities about voices he hears in his head, according to court testimony.

While in jail, Dickie gained a reputation as a troublemaker. He was charged with setting a fire in his jail cell, vandalizing jail property, possessing contraband and threatening guards. He pleaded guilty to those charges Friday.

Darragh said even if a jury rejected a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the medical evidence would likely weigh heavily on jurors during the sentencing phase. A jury has the choice of sentencing a defendant in a death case to life with the possibility of parole, life without the possibility of parole or death.

Darragh said the victim’s family agreed to Friday’s negotiated plea.

"The family has come to the conclusion that a life without parole sentence will be acceptable to them if the defendant would step up to his responsibilities and plead guilty to these crimes," Darragh said.

Dickie did not address the court except to enter the guilty plea and answer routine questions from the judge about the plea and his understanding of his rights.

Dickie’s attorney, Doug Ramseur, told the judge, "Mr. Dickie is extremely remorseful for what happened and it’s very important for him to take full responsibility for what happened that day,"

Dickie’s parents looked on solemnly from the courtroom gallery.

Judge Jason Deal told Toppin’s family members that "nothing I can do will make this fair."

"Even if Mr. Dickie was executed tomorrow, you would still have those hollow feeling in your heart, because it would not bring Ms. Toppin back," Deal said.

Addressing Dickie, the judge said, "You have robbed our community of a little sense of safety."

"With this sentence you will no longer be a danger to the Toppins ... or society in general," Deal said.

There are no longer any murder defendants in Hall County facing the death penalty. In 2007, three people had death penalty cases pending but all ended up with sentences of life without parole.

Cornelio Zamites, charged in the rape and murder of a 4-year-old girl, pleaded guilty in exchange for a life without parole sentence after Darragh expressed concern that Zamites might be found guilty but mentally retarded at trial and ineligible for the death penalty.

Ignacio Vergara was sentenced by a Hall County jury to life without parole in his death penalty trial for the murder of two men in a drug-related robbery.