In 2012, pathologist Dr. Joseph Sonnier was found shot and stabbed to death in his Lubbock, Texas, home. It was not a robbery gone wrong — and it actually turned out to be a murder-for-hire case. Dave Shepard was the man hired to kill Sonnier and he is currently serving a life sentence for the murder. Ahead of the Dateline NBC episode about the case, here’s what you need to know about the part Shepard’s own daughters played in his conviction.
Shepard Was Hired to Kill Sonnier By a Jealous Ex-Boyfriend
When Sonnier died, he has been seeing a woman named Richelle Shetina, who was questioned by the police and named her ex-boyfriend, Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon, as a possible suspect because he wouldn’t accept that she had moved on from him and was seeing someone new.
Detective Zach Johnson told ABC News, “[Dixon] was obsessed with Richelle. He was having a lot of problems getting over this break-up. He just couldn’t seem to let her go.”
Dixon had an alibi for the time of Sonnier’s murder, so that seemed like a dead-end, but as the investigation continued, a tipster came forward named Paul Reynolds, who was friends with Dave Shepard. He told police that Shepard was acting strange, telling him he killed a man in Lubbock and even attempting suicide.
When the police began looking into Shepard, they found surveillance video footage of him meeting with Dixon the day before the murder. Upon questioning Shepard, he told them Dixon offered him three bars of silver and a box of Cuban cigars to kill Sonnier. Using Shepard’s information, the police found the gun used in the crime in the lake behind Dixon’s office. It was registered to Dixon’s brother.
Shepard’s Daughters’ Damaging Testimony
As part of the investigation, authorities questioned Shepard’s daughters, Haley, Abigail, and Rachel. They said they could remember a night when their father took them out for an expensive dinner where he also bragged about buying a new grill and new tired for his SUV.
“We all asked him, ‘How do you have money?’ and his words were, ‘I did some work for Mike and he paid me early,’” Haley Shepard told ABC News. In hindsight, the sisters said they believed their father had the money because of Dixon paying him for murdering Sonnier.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors said that Shepard sold one bar of silver at an Amarillo pawn shop the day before the murder and the other two the day after.
His daughters were shocked when they heard about their father’s arrest.
“Never would’ve ever thought that he would do something like that,” Haley Shepard said. “[But] I do believe it happened the way that the story plays out. Mike asked him to do it — I believe that’s actually what happened. … He wanted what Mike had, so spending time with Mike made him look better.”
In a jailhouse video obtained by ABC News, Shepard’s daughters confronted him and he can be heard saying that they “think [he’s] some kind of a monster,” to which Abigail Shepard replied, “You’ve made yourself a monster, dad.”
In Dixon’s first trial, the jury could not reach a verdict, largely due to the fact that Shepard crumbled on the stand. But he eventually got his testimony straight for the second trial as part of his plea deal to avoid the death penalty. Haley Shepard also took the stand at the second trial and her testimony was instrumental in getting Dixon convicted.
“The number one most important thing from this second trial was the unbelievably courageous testimony of Haley Shepard,” said Dallas Sonnier, Dr. Joseph Sonnier’s son.
The sisters told ABC News that they’re doing “OK” without him and Abigail Shepard said she’s “proud of where [they] are.” Haley Shepard added, “I think he is where he needs to be. I would love for him to be able to see and be proud of where we’re at also.”
Shepard is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Dixon was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole also. However, his conviction was overturned on appeal in 2018 and he was let out. While the state of Texas got that reversal reversed, Dixon remained out of jail on bond, which is where he remains today while his lawyers raise other issues with the court of appeals, according to KFDA.
Dateline NBC airs Thursdays, Fridays, and Mondays on NBC.