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Court affirms murder, accessory convictions

February 18, 2016

The 7th Court of Appeals affirmed a first-degree murder charge against William Bell and an accessory after the fact to the murder charge against Lenard Dixon after each appealed the sufficiency of the evidence underlying their convictions.

William Bell, convicted of murder, also challenged the decision to admit evidence concerning an inculpatory statement he made regarding the murder, and Lenard Dixon, convicted of being an accessory after the fact, challenged the decision to shackle his legs during the trial.

Bell and Dixon were being held at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, and were cell mates. In a video from the penitentiary, Bell was seen carrying an object into the cell of Brian Pendleton and emerging a short time later. Dixon comes to keep watch. Bell and Dixon leave, and Pendleton stumbles out later, a knife wound in his neck. Pendleton died from blood loss.

Bell threatened a correctional officer, saying he would kill him like he did that prisoner across the street, and the officer made a note of this. That threat was used in the trial against Bell, but Bell says it shouldn’t have been because the prison’s failure to preserve a video recording of the incident and legible copy of his written statement deprived him of due process. However, the court disagreed, saying the tape was taped over as a matter of routine, as was the destroying of his written statement.

The court also found Bell premediated the murder. He left his cell with something in his hand, and used his free hand to open the door. He was prepared to engage in violence, the court said.

The 7th Circuit also found the trial court judge did not err in having Dixon’s legs shackled. He had a history of violence, both in prison and out, and was justified in having him shackled for safety reasons.

The court also found Dixon assisted Bell with the intent to hinder his apprehension, trial and punishment for murder. He knew what was going on in the cell, walked right by Pendleton with Bell’s clothes as Pendleton was bleeding to throw them away, and made false statements to investigators.  

The combined appeal is United States of America v. William Bell and Lenard Dixon, Nos. 14-3462 and 14-3470.

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