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.
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.
Joanne Farriel, who's spending the night at her boyfriend's house, which is a few doors down from the Dixon residence, hears three shots. She had fallen asleep with the television on, and she heard them as soon as she turned it off. She didn't look outside, because shots aren't unusual in the neighborhood. But a few minutes later she hears the screams. That's when she wakes up her boyfriend.
Johnny hits the intersection of Winfree and Grace, where he sees something on the ground. He walks closer and finds Tarron lying on his back, two small bullet holes in the left side of his chest, eyes open, legs folded underneath his body, hands to the side. Johnny bends down, shakes him, calls his brother's name. But he knows it's no use.
Joanne Farriel's boyfriend calls 911, and Johnny and Daryl are there with Tarron's body when the police arrive. The cops ask Johnny if he has any idea who killed his brother. Johnny has three ideas, and one of them is Michael Patterson.
But the police won't find the killer for another six months, in which time word spreads about Tarron's jewelry turning up in a pawnshop and a crackhouse, in which time two friends of Lasonya Keys will tell Tarron's father that Rookie confessed to the killing. So it's a shock to the Dixons and everyone in the neighborhood when the police say Tarron Dixon didn't die in a robbery. No, it's even worse than that. When they arrest Donnie Riley, Jorey Thomas, John-John Carillo and Bobby Folks, they tell the Dixons that Marine Lance Corporal Tarron Dixon died for one simple fact: the color of his skin.
Ten years after he received a life sentence for killing Tarron Dixon, Riley got the news that an Angleton parole board had voted two to one to release him. But the paperwork was never finalized.
The board made its decision without hearing from Tarron Dixon's family. The Dixons had never registered with the state to be notified whenever Riley was up for parole; he had been up at least twice before July.
As soon as a story broke about the parole board's decision, the outraged Dixon family demanded the right to protest the release of their son's killer. The board withdrew Riley's paperwork and listened to testimony from the family, including a 13-year-old girl named Tijana Dixon. Dorothy and Andrew Dixon, Tarron's parents, demanded the board keep Riley behind bars because he killed Tijana's father. Tijana Dixon will never know her daddy, they said. And they told the same thing to the Brazosport Facts.
Three weeks after hearing from the Dixons, parole board member Charles Speier reversed his original decision to grant Riley's parole. Speier says the Dixons' protests changed his mind. Saying victim impact statements are confidential, Speier would not elaborate.
What the board may not have known, and what the Facts article didn't mention, was that Tarron Dixon was not Tijana's father. His wife, Chantel, was pregnant with Tijana by another man at the time Dixon was in Desert Storm, according to the military's investigation of the murder. The family refused to comment for this story, as did Andy Kahan, the city's crime victims advocate.
Riley's next parole hearing will be in a year, but he's hoping to be granted more than parole. He wants his conviction overturned.
In 1994, the jury's official verdict found Riley guilty of the murder without stating he was the triggerman. The trial court judge, however, made an "affirmative finding" that Riley held the weapon. The ruling meant that Riley wouldn't be eligible for parole for 25 years.
In 1996, the state's First District Court of Appeals ruled that the judge had erred. The appellate court threw out the "deadly weapon" finding, expediting Riley's parole eligibility without changing the life sentence.
The appellate court upheld other rulings, however, most important the admission of Riley's written statement into evidence. Riley's attorneys petitioned the state's highest court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, to hear arguments, but that court refused.
Riley has one more shot. His lawyers are filing a motion for new trial in the trial court, contending that Riley's original defense attorneys were ineffective. Although his lawyers are filing the motion in the trial court, it is up to the State Court of Criminal Appeals to accept or reject the motion.
For now, Riley is confined in the Stiles Unit in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Beaumont prison. He wears rimless glasses and black hair shorn close to his scalp. Like every other self-proclaimed innocent inmate, he has reviewed the details of his case for as long as he's been locked up, analyzing and dissecting the minutiae of June 6 and 7, 1991, for the last 4,700 days.
Riley's not a betting man, but he says he's got an offer on the table: If the Dixons meet with him, listen to his side of the story and still believe he's their son's killer, he'll withdraw his appeal.
The problem is, Riley's word is hardly unimpeachable.
Riley's first dance with the criminal justice system came when he was 16 and sneaked through the bedroom window of the 13-year-old daughter of a high-ranking Brazoria County sheriff's official. A judge sentenced Riley to the Texas Youth Commission for "an indeterminate time" for the statutory rape. It would not be the first time Donnie Riley screwed someone whose daddy could screw him in return.
He was out within a year and was soon on his way to building a colorful rap sheet. He started dealing acid, coke and ecstasy, which sometimes wasn't ecstasy at all but CoTylenol. His family and family friends today describe Riley as a cocky, good-looking kid who never learned how to shut his big mouth. He had one older brother, three older sisters and a mother who married four times. Beverly Riley is an industrious woman who was always running a gas station or restaurant or some type of business, and by the time she gave birth to Donnie, there was just not enough of her to go around. Before Donnie was out of his teens, Beverly filed charges against him for reckless conduct and threatening to kill her. Donnie's own grandmother filed a charge against him for assault or injury to an elderly person, in which prosecutors said he bit her. Other charges, for which Riley was never convicted, included assault, terroristic threat, carrying a weapon on school grounds and trespassing.
His behavior was especially idiotic, given that one of his sisters was a cop who was married to Brazoria County Sheriff's Deputy David Wallace. When Donnie was 17, Wallace's 16-year-old daughter from a previous marriage ran away from home and over to Donnie's trailer. After that, Donnie says, Wallace hated him. The feeling apparently was mutual. Wallace testified in Riley's trial that his brother-in-law called him from jail and threatened to cut off the heads of Wallace's wife (Riley's own sister) and their three-year-old daughter, and deliver the heads to Wallace on a golden platter. Just prior to Wallace's testimony to the grand jury, according to lead prosecutor Mike Anderson, Riley spit in his sister's face and called her a whore.
In April 1990, when Donnie was two months shy of 18, he sold ecstasy (the real stuff this time) to an undercover cop. His conviction also included possession of acid and coke. Donnie got out in about nine months and was on probation for that conviction when he drove to Houston the night Tarron Dixon was killed.
And drive there he did, according to the written statement that sealed his fate, and pursuant to the story he's sticking to today. Donnie Riley's story for the night of June 6, 1991, is a contender for the most ridiculous alibi a sane criminal defendant has ever entered on his own behalf.
The crux of the alibi is this: Donnie Riley says he, John-John Carillo, Jorey Thomas and Bobby Folks were indiscriminately shooting at black people the night that Tarron Dixon died; they were just in a completely different part of town. And, he says, they were back in Angleton well before Dixon was murdered.
But when those four returned to Angleton that night, they talked about shooting at blacks in Houston. Word eventually reached the sheriff's office. The father of the girl Donnie statutorily raped assigned Donnie's brother-in-law David Wallace (the father of the 16-year-old girl with whom Donnie had had an affair) to the case.
The prosecution had no murder weapon, no fingerprints, none of Dixon's jewelry and no witnesses to the shooting. But they had Donnie Riley's incredible written statement, and, really, what more did they need?
Monday, June 10, 1991, was a busy day for Houston Police Sergeant Glenn Matthews, the lead investigator on the Dixon case. Although a high-ranking Brazoria County sheriff's official had asked David Wallace to check out Riley, the murder occurred in Houston and was therefore under the jurisdiction of the Houston Police Department.
According to Matthews's police log, which is part of the case file, he received a message about the case as soon as he rolled into the office. A man named Patrick Bernard left Matthews his number, saying he had information about Dixon's death. When Matthews called, he got Bernard's answering machine. He left his name and number and asked Bernard to call back. (Neither the Houston Police Department nor the Houston Police Officers Union had contact information for Matthews, who retired in 2002. The Houston Press left a message for Matthews via the Houston Police Officers Pension System. He did not respond.)
Matthews then placed a call to Jamie Baines, whose name Johnny Tarron provided as a possible suspect. Baines was one of the three Johnny said he'd seen casing Tarron's house the day he was killed.
Baines told Matthews he didn't know anything about the murder except for what he'd seen on the news. Matthews told Baines he still wanted to talk, and that he'd be by in 30 minutes. But when Matthews arrived at Baines's house, a few doors down from Tarron's parents, Baines was gone. Matthews left his card, jotting a note for Baines to call when he returned.
Since Matthews was so close to the Dixon residence, he stopped by to reinterview Johnny. Johnny wasn't home, but his father, Andrew, had turned up some information for Matthews.
The day before, Andrew Dixon told Matthews, two teenage girls who identified themselves as friends of Lasonya Keys had stopped by the house. They told Andrew that Keys's boyfriend, Rookie, had killed his son. They said Lasonya witnessed the murder and that Rookie kept saying he had to lay low. They provided addresses for Rookie and Lasonya, then left without giving their own names.
Andrew Dixon also told Matthews that the word was Tarron's necklace or gold ring had turned up in a crackhouse on MLK run by a guy named Jimmy.
Matthews found Lasonya later that day but got nothing. She said nothing about witnessing the murder. She said nothing about Rookie being the shooter. But Matthews ran Rookie's name through the system anyway. Rookie turned out to be a suspect in an aggravated assault with a .25 a month earlier. Matthews never interviewed him.
Back in his office, Matthews got a call from Patrick Bernard. Bernard said his friend, a marine, was at a barber college on Old Spanish Trail a day after the killing when a black male told him he witnessed Dixon's murder. This black male said he wouldn't say dick without a reward.
Bernard's friend said the guy appeared to be a regular there. He signed his name as Walker in the appointment book. Matthews took down his description: black male, 25 or 26, five-foot-two or -three, 110 pounds, small eyes, mustache, slim build.
Matthews hit the barber college and asked the owner to call him if anyone turned up any other info on Walker. Matthews then went to a pawnshop and left a description of Tarron Dixon's missing jewelry with the owner.
Later on, an "unidentified black male" told Matthews that Tarron's jewelry turned up in a flea market on MLK. Matthews drove to the market, but it was closed for the day, so he returned to the office. He never went back.
He also talked to Joanne Farriel, the woman who said she heard three shots that night. She said she hadn't heard any cars drive off afterward.
And until Matthews met Donnie Riley six months later, that was pretty much it for Matthews's investigation into the murder of Tarron Dixon.
"On the night of June 6, me, Jorey Thomas, Bobby Folks and John Carillo went to Houston," Donnie says while seated at a table in a Stiles Unit visiting room. "We went to Houston to go to a club called the House of Eden."
He draws a map on a sheet of legal paper and places the now-defunct club at Main and Elgin. This is a re-creation of the map he drew 13 years ago and gave to David Wallace to pass on to Glenn Matthews, the same map that Matthews would later testify to losing.
Riley says Carillo was too young to get into the club, so they drove around the neighborhood trying to figure out what to do next.
They were sitting in a parking lot on San Jacinto when a black man rolled up to the LeBaron on his bike and tried to sell them some crack.
"Get away from that door, man, we don't want none of that shit," Riley recalls Thomas saying. But the guy just kept hanging around, like crackheads tend to do. So that's when Thomas drew a .357. "Dude, get the fuck away from the door."
That seemed to do the trick. And it seemed to bring out the redneck in them. So they cruised around the "little ol' roads" around San Jacinto and Main, until they passed a black guy jogging down the street in what Riley describes as a purple shirt or sweatshirt. Riley doesn't remember the street name, but he describes a nearby building and alley.
For Bobby Folks, it was too good to pass up. He leaned out the passenger side, extended either the .357 or .380 over the roof of the car, and fired at the jogger.
"The dude jumps up, takes off and runs around the corner," Riley says.
From there, they tried to find 288 to get back home. They passed a Metro bus stop, where they saw another black man walking, and they stopped to ask him for directions.
"He said something messed up," Riley says. "I can't remember exactly what he said."
So they drove around the corner, rolled around, and Carillo and Folks shot out of the car three or four times.
"Everybody just scatters," Riley says. And fortunately for everyone else at the bus stop, they finally found their highway and cruised back home.
Riley says they made it back to Angleton by 11 p.m., where they hit a small gathering at a friend's house. There were a handful of friends there, getting ready to watch Grease, which was coming on at midnight. But Riley couldn't make it. He staggered back to a bedroom and crashed.
The next day, on the news, "they show Tarron Dixon," Riley says. "They don't say anything about what kind of gun he was shot with. They don't say anything like that. I don't remember them saying anything about robbery, just that he was shot and killed And in my mind, I'm thinking, 'Damn, I hope that ain't somebody we was shootin' at or playin' with.' "
That story is what landed him in prison. It's the same as the written statement he gave to police in December 1991. Although nowhere in the statement does it say that anyone got out of the car after any of the incidents -- to retrieve jewelry, say -- there was one word that hung him: purple.
Riley recalls Folks shooting at a black man wearing a purple shirt or sweatshirt.
Lynn Ruzicka, a parole board member who originally voted for Riley's release, says Riley's statement does not necessarily tie him to the murder. She says prosecutors just assumed that the individual in the purple shirt or sweatshirt had to be the bare-chested Tarron Dixon.
"He didn't know who they shot, and he didn't really know where they were," she says. "So there's just an assumption that that was the one." Riley "has no way of knowing that Mr. Dixon was the person that was shot."
But as far as the prosecution was concerned, the statement was as good as a confession.
Riley's attorneys did not call any witnesses to corroborate Riley's alibi. Nor did they mention Lasonya Keys or Rookie Robertson.
The prosecution had no physical evidence, but they had an extremely unlikable defendant and more than enough people willing to testify against him.
In 1991, when Wallace and Matthews first questioned Riley, he was in Brazoria County Jail on charges of aggravated assault. Prosecutors said that sometime after Dixon's murder, Riley pointed a gun at an acquaintance and said, "I'll shoot you, punk-ass Mexican. I'm wanted for murder in Harris County, and I'll shoot your ass. It doesn't bother me, I'm going to jail anyway."
They had acquaintances who testified that Riley and his pals returned to Angleton bragging about killing "a nigger" up in Houston. They told everyone they threw the murder weapon in Oyster Creek. They never said anything about the jewelry. Police searched the river, finding nothing.
A ballistics test ruled out Michael Patterson as a suspect. An HPD ballistics expert testified that the .25-caliber bullets recovered from Patterson's crime scene were not fired from the same gun used to kill Dixon.
Riley was incarcerated for 31 months before his September 1994 trial. In May 1994, Riley bonded out of Harris County Jail and spent about a week in Brazoria County Jail, where he still had to bond out on several pending misdemeanors.
During that time, he shared a cell with an old associate named Jerry Wayne Jones. Jones, 21, often found himself behind bars for beating his 17-year-old wife, who at the time had a ten-month-old child. Thomas testified in Riley's trial that Riley often bragged about his Aryan Brotherhood tattoo, which he said he'd received for killing a black man.
According to Jones's testimony, Riley displayed his "SS" lightning bolts like some sort of Nazi peacock. Jones didn't share this bit of information with the police until after Riley bonded out and invited Jones's wife and child to move into his mother's house. Riley followed this up with a brief affair with the woman.
The Aryan Brotherhood tattoo solidified the prosecution's contention that Riley is exactly the kind of guy who would commit a hate crime. While this may be, Riley does not have the true Aryan Brotherhood tattoo, which, according to the Anti-Defamation League, usually consist of the letters "AB," the numbers "666" or, more commonly, a swastika imposed on a three-leaf clover. Moreover, according to TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons, TDCJ's gang security unit has never identified Riley as a gang member in the ten years he's been incarcerated.
The prosecution also had Glenn Matthews, who testified that Riley waived his Miranda rights when he gave his oral and written statements. On the stand, Matthews testified to destroying the notes he took during his first interview with Riley, losing the map Riley drew of where he said he was the night of June 6, and losing a bag of about 50 live .25-caliber bullets that David Wallace retrieved from Riley's house around December 1991. Matthews testified that he thought he tagged the bag and locked the evidence in the homicide room, but they subsequently disappeared.
Missing evidence aside, prosecutors used expert and witness testimony -- as well as Riley's statement -- to tell the jury what they believed happened that night.
And that was this: After shooting at their first black man that night in an unknown location, Riley and his friends wound up driving through Tarron Dixon's neighborhood.
They ran into Dixon when he left the Chevron. They stopped the car and called him over to the driver's-side window. He leaned in and someone shot him twice from the backseat.
According to the medical examiner, the lack of powder burns on Dixon's body indicated the gun had to be at least two feet away. That eliminated driver Jorey Thomas as the shooter, lead prosecutor Mike Anderson told the jury. The pattern of Dixon's wounds eliminated Bobby Folks, the alleged passenger, as the shooter. (If he was in the car that night, Folks is the luckiest one of the four. Prosecutors lacked the evidence necessary to bring him to trial. Folks refused to comment for this story.)
That leaves the shooting up to John-John Carillo or Donnie Riley. The prosecution went with Riley, the supposed white supremacist, rather than Carillo, the Hispanic man with whom he shared the backseat.
Because the rear windows on a 1991 Chrysler LeBaron coupe do not roll down, Riley, still in the backseat behind the driver, aimed either in front of or behind the driver when he fired. Although the gun had to be at least two feet inside the car, the shells ejected outside the window and onto the street by Dixon's body.
Based on the location of the body, Dixon had to have been shot from Grace Lane or Winfree Drive. Johnny Dixon testified it took about five minutes from hearing the gunshot until he found his brother's body. This gave Riley and his friends time to drive around a corner and run back to the body to steal Dixon's jewelry and wallet, although they left his cash and military ID with the body.
They didn't haul ass. No witnesses testified to hearing a car after the shots. Instead, they drove quietly out of the neighborhood, most likely heading west toward 288, instead of east toward Johnny and Daryl. Apparently not satisfied with killing one black man and nabbing his jewelry, they passed a Metro stop and proceeded to shoot at other black people. Then, having had their fill, they headed home.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour before finding Donnie Riley guilty.
Before concluding the trial and relieving the jury, Judge Michael McSpadden said, "Mr. Riley, you are a disgrace to us all."
Mike Anderson, the lead prosecutor in the trial, is now a judge and is prohibited from talking about the case.
Denise Nassar, who sat second chair and handled the penalty phase as well as several key witnesses, says Riley's statement is proof of guilt.
"To me, it seemed that the crux of the case came down to what those defendants were saying and their admissions and what they were doing in Houston that night," she says. "And I didn't think there was ever any argument that they weren't here and they weren't shooting at black people in Houston neighborhoods."
The prosecutors embraced parts of Riley's statement and rejected others. They never disputed Riley's recollection of the night's first and third shootings. But there were other things Riley said that they simply disregarded.
Although Riley had Bobby Folks leaning out of the passenger window and shooting at the man in purple, prosecutors never could place Folks in the car. But crime-scene analysis showed that the shots could not have come from the front passenger side.
Prosecutors also told the jury that two of the occupants -- they never said who -- got out of the car to retrieve Dixon's jewelry. Riley's statement never places the occupants outside the car.
Nassar's questioning of the medical examiner is what established Riley as the backseat shooter, but she says today that no one will ever know for sure which one of the four did the shooting. Even if Riley didn't shoot, she says, state law holds him equally accountable for Dixon's murder.
"We're never going to know exactly the position of the victim and the gun at the time he was shot," she says. "And I don't know that the whole case hung in the balance of, necessarily, the position" of the gun.
When asked about Matthews's failure to follow up leads, lost evidence and destroyed notes, Nassar says, "You're saying that Matthews did a bad job. I'm not going to disagree with you and I don't believe he was in homicide much longer after this case."
Ken McLean, Riley's appeals attorney, did not return phone calls for this story. Neither did Riley's original defense attorneys, Charles Hinton and Ken Goode.
Riley recently filed a complaint about McLean with the Texas State Bar, accusing him of ignoring Riley and not providing documents Riley requested. Riley's wife says McLean has never returned phone calls she made on Riley's behalf. McLean never even realized his client had been interviewed for a feature story until a reporter visited his office.
However, Riley's sisters, mother and wife (he has married twice while in prison) have a lot to say about that night 13 years ago.
His oldest sister, who is now divorced from David Wallace and who asked not to be named, says she thought Riley was guilty until recently. She says Wallace should never have been assigned to the case.
His other sister, Marinell Goodbread, criticizes Riley's original defense attorneys, who did not question any of the people who were at the Angleton home Riley says he returned to that night. (Based on the transcripts of the one-day trial, it appears that Hinton and Goode called only two defense witnesses.)
Riley says he's behind bars mainly for one reason: The police conducted a biased investigation.
"They didn't give a damn about this case, man, until the military got involved in, like, October," four months after the murder, he says. He wants to know why Matthews never questioned Rookie Robertson and why he never searched the flea market where Dixon's jewelry was rumored to be.
Riley understands why the Dixons want him behind bars. As far as they know, he says, he's their son's killer.
Tarron Dixon's father, Andrew, testified during Riley's punishment phase. He described the unusual pain brought about by having a child gunned down a block from home.
"I have to look both ways before I can back out [of the driveway], and I see the spot," he said. "If I walk out to pick up the newspaper or anything, I have to see the spot. And it's daily. It's daily. It's something you never forget."
Keys, who says she recently served time for drug possession, has a different story today. She says she does not remember hearing gunshots upon leaving Club Infinity that night, but that it's possible.
She says she's had no contact with Rookie, who has been in and out of jail for drug possession and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle since Dixon's murder. He could not be reached for comment.
Patterson also could not be reached. Since Dixon's murder, he has served time for drug possession and auto theft.
Denied parole again, Riley is now counting on his October appeal. He says a sloppy HPD investigation landed him in prison, and only a second look by another agency can get him out. Specifically, he doesn't believe HPD properly examined the bullets recovered from the Patterson shooting one hour before Dixon's death.
In his mind, there is a relationship between three bullets that proves his innocence.
"I'd like to have an outside agency do all this -- take the May 15  Robertson incident, take the [Patterson] incident and take the Dixon incident and compare all of them. Compare all the shell casings and everything," he says. "There has to be a match there somewhere."
But there doesn't have to be. The match could be in the bag of bullets that Matthews lost. Or it could be in a .25 the prosecution says is at the bottom of Oyster Creek. It could be somewhere only the killer knows, and that could mean Donnie Riley knows, or it could mean he doesn't.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.