Parts Unknown

Did Donnie Riley kill Tarron Dixon, or was he shooting at someone else in a different Houston neighborhood that night 13 years ago?

Donnie Riley sits drunk in the backseat of a car carrying four friends and at least two loaded handguns. They're cruising up Texas 288 from Angleton intending to, the prosecution will later say, "fuck with some niggers." Riley is on probation for selling ecstasy to an undercover cop a year before. He's a racist, the prosecutors will say, but the passenger is half-Mexican and the guy sharing the backseat is full Mexican.

It's the night of June 6, 1991. Tarron Dixon, a young black man who will be shot to death a block from his parents' home in a few hours, is walking to a nightclub with his brother and a friend. Dixon is a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines and a Desert Storm veteran. Two days earlier, he returned to his home near MacGregor Park, about a mile due south of the University of Houston. Dixon, 25, has an estranged wife who's pregnant with another man's child.

Dixon, his younger brother Johnny, and a friend named Daryl are sharing a 40-ounce on the short hike to Club Infinity. Tarron and Johnny started celebrating earlier that day, when Johnny got off work at the Uncle Ben's rice plant. They tinkered around on Johnny's car, knocking back a few beers out of pride and relief that Tarron is home in one piece. Now it's warm enough that Tarron is wearing short purple overalls without a shirt. A black baseball cap is perched upon his flattop, a ten-millimeter gold chain slung around his neck.

Riley wants to prove to Dixon's parents that he didn't 
kill their son.
Craig Malisow
Riley wants to prove to Dixon's parents that he didn't kill their son.
Dixon's parents pleaded with the parole board to deny 
Riley's release.
Todd Yates/The Brazosport Facts
Dixon's parents pleaded with the parole board to deny Riley's release.

Tarron's wearing a watch with a lizard-skin band, his diamond wedding ring and Johnny's gold lion's-head ring and a regular gold nugget ring. In the picture that will run in tomorrow's report on his murder, he'll stare at readers with a baby face that looks incongruous with his military blues and white dress hat, which looks two sizes too big. But tonight, he's got a slight mustache and some stubble. He looks fit and tough, his shirtless chest muscular like a marine's ought to be.

Also heading to Club Infinity this night, separately, are 16-year-old Lasonya Keys and her 18-year-old acquaintance, Gilbert "Rookie" Robertson. Robertson was busted three weeks earlier for an aggravated assault involving a .25-caliber pistol. Keys and Robertson spot each other inside the club around 11 p.m.

By this time, Riley and his friends are in Houston, no one knows where exactly, but they pass two black males walking down the street. Jorey Thomas, who's behind the wheel of Riley's red 1991 Chrysler LeBaron coupe, says he wants to mess with them. One of them approaches the car and asks what's up.

"What's up," Thomas repeats, and points the gun.

The guy backs up, and Thomas takes off. Thomas wants to go back to shoot him, but Riley and Bobby Folks, riding shotgun, take the pistol from Thomas's hands.

It's now about midnight, and Tarron, Johnny and Daryl are now inside the club, drinking beer. Tarron is smoking a cigarette. Elsewhere in the club, Lasonya and Rookie are arguing.

Meanwhile, making his way through the neighborhood around the club, is Michael Patterson. He's got a .25 and a record.

Patterson and two of his pals walked by Tarron's house earlier that night, when Tarron and Johnny and some friends were hanging in the front yard. Johnny thought they looked like they were casing the place. That's when Johnny told Tarron he better get burglar bars for his home, which their parents just bought him so he could live in the same neighborhood.

"Those three right there," Johnny told Tarron, according to his later testimony, "nine times out of ten, they might try to come in the house."

Patterson and his two partners continued down the street, never taking their eyes off Tarron's house.

Right now, Patterson is on Culmore Drive, two streets north of Club Infinity. He sees someone, draws his .25 and fires. He'll be arrested for aggravated assault, but not tonight.

About 80 minutes after Patterson fires his .25, the Dixon brothers and Daryl step out of Club Infinity and into the pouring rain. It's close to closing time. They start to run home when, along the way, Daryl loses his keys. The three take shelter at the Chevron at Griggs and MLK, where Tarron goes inside to nuke a burger. Johnny and Daryl decide to go back for the keys. Tarron says he'll wait for them at the Chevron.

By this time, Riley's red LeBaron is winding through the residential streets.

Johnny and Daryl trace their way back to Club Infinity, searching for the keys. They can't find them, so they go back to the Chevron to get Tarron, whom they also can't find. Some people tell Johnny and Daryl that Tarron said he was going home. Johnny and Daryl head down Griggs Road toward Tarron's house.

Lasonya and Rookie leave Club Infinity, but Lasonya doesn't know where Rookie goes. She doesn't care because she's pissed. As soon as she steps outside, she hears gunshots coming from the side of the club.

Johnny and Daryl are walking down Gammage Street when they hear two shots, back to back. They don't know what's going on, but they start walking faster toward Tarron's house.

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