Nothing done in a courtroom in recent weeks could satisfactorily address the profound loss that came from the senseless killing of Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon two years ago. But the sentencing to prison of three of those responsible for his death helps move one of the saddest chapters in the community’s recent history a step closer to some sort of closure, imperfect though it may be.
Thursday, Judge Jason Deal ordered that Hector Garcia-Solis, the man who admitted firing the shots that killed Dixon, should spend the rest of his life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
That means the person directly responsible for firing the shots that claimed the life of the young deputy has been dealt with by the courts and given the longest possible sentence under the law, pending any potential appeals.
Co-defendants Eric Velazquez and London Clements, parties to the crimes that led Dixon to confront the group as they tried to escape from police, were sentenced to life in prison but with the chance for parole at some far distant date a minimum of 30 years in the future.
A fourth defendant has yet to be tried in the case.
We think Judge Deal handled a difficult case well; the sentences he imposed were justified.
None of that erases the pain the defendants caused the Dixon family as well as their own, who testified the teens are not monsters and feel regret for their fateful actions.
Garcia-Solis was 17 years old when he fired the shots that killed Dixon, and there are those who would argue that a sentence of life without parole for such a young offender is too harsh. His behavior following his arrest — kicking, spitting and even pointing finger guns at authorities — makes a strong argument he may not feel the remorse he expressed on the stand.
The Dixon family will forever grieve their loved one, and now Garcia-Solis’ family faces a lifetime separated from their loved one in prison.
There is little doubt that Garcia-Solis knew there was the potential of being confronted by law enforcement as he and his crew carried out brazen thefts around Gainesville in the summer of 2019. He was armed and prepared for such an event. He chose to run from police when pursued and opted to fire upon Dixon rather than surrender. A man died as a result. Murder was committed.
He murdered a man with a family, wife, kids, loved ones. To protect himself, he took the life of a law enforcement officer, a representative of the entire community, someone willing to put his life on the line in the service of others.
Members of Dixon’s family spoke during the sentencing phase of the trial, telling of his love for them, his essential goodness, the loss they all suffered by his death. It was impossible to hear their testimony and not ache for their suffering, realizing that their loved one had given his life to protect others and that nothing that could transpire in the courtroom would ever change that fact.
There are those, too, who would argue that those who were with Garcia-Solis on that fateful night should have gotten lighter sentences, since they did not fire the shots that resulted in death. We think the sentences were appropriate. While Dixon was killed by shots fired from a gun by Garcia-Solis, he would not have been there at all if there had not been repeated thefts and burglaries by the men who ultimately were tried and convicted. They all had a part in the crime spree leading up to that fateful night, they all knew what might happen if they were caught by law enforcement, they all chose to run when confronted, they all must be severely punished.
The sentences imposed were as close to justice as the law will allow, and yet there is no satisfaction to be had in the culmination of the trials of the three men guilty of murder. They will spend most, if not all, of their lives in prison, while the family of Deputy Dixon will continue to suffer every day.
So much loss caused by young boys who decided to flaunt the law by stealing cars and guns, who decided their personal crime spree was more important than the concepts of law and order under which a civilized society chooses to live.
Judge Deal noted that he had never sentenced someone who was 17 at the time a crime was committed to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It cannot have been easy to do so, but we applaud his actions.
We don’t know what happened in those 17 years to create a lost soul with so little regard for human life. Maybe if we can learn the answer to that question, we can help stop such insane violence instead of being compelled to seek justice after evil has been done.
At this point, the best we can do is demand justice in the form of a punishment that denies these defendants the privileges of freedom.
But there is no punishment that restores the loss suffered by the Dixon family, friends and fellow officers in law enforcement. And there is no “thank you” sufficient for someone who has sacrificed his life for others.