LAWRENCEVILLE -- Amir Dixon's supporters cite one reason for why the 25-year-old father of two has languished in the Gwinnett County Jail for more than a year: The man he's accused of beating up, David Ramirez-Garcia, was deported.
The justice system that purged the alleged victim from the country is directly responsible for delaying Dixon's day in court, his supporters say. But prosecutors say the case illustrates a common difficulty, in that dealing with key witnesses and victims who have left the country for whatever reason has become rudimentary business.
Justice, prosecutors maintain, is blind to international boundaries.
Dixon has been jailed since January 2011 on felony aggravated battery charges, accused of beating Ramirez-Garcia, 23, in a dispute two years ago outside an apartment Dixon shared with his mother and younger brother. His attorney, Sugar Hill-based Matthew Miller, calls it a clear-cut case of self-defense, and Dixon's family concurs.
"The guy stabbed my son, and my son beat him up," said Dixon's mother, Talli Dixon, who has since moved from Norcross to Illinois. "(Prosecutors) are just kind of railroading my son."
The beating in question happened about 3 a.m. on May 3, 2009, outside the 1800 building of the Mission Heritage Apartments on Jimmy Carter Boulevard.
Dixon told police then, as Dixon's camp claims now, that Ramirez-Garcia was known to drunkenly drive his truck around the complex. Dixon told police he'd confronted Ramirez-Garcia about this habit earlier that day. That night, as Dixon stood in his breezeway, he said Ramirez-Garcia parked in front of his apartment, summoned him to the truck and then attacked him with a knife, according to a Gwinnett police report.
Ramirez-Garcia was beaten so severely that first-responding medics told police the injuries could be life-threatening. A responding officer noted that Ramirez-Garcia's face was bloodied, and that he appeared to be vomiting blood as a group of friends held him up.
One witness told police he saw Dixon standing over Ramirez-Garcia near the breezeway, punching and kicking him as he lay on the ground, not fighting back.
Dixon told police that when he was threatened with the knife and saw several of Ramirez-Garcia's friends approaching, he flipped into "survival mode" and could recall little about what happened thereafter. Inside a bloody towel, Dixon's hand bore a one-inch laceration. Police found a small, bloodied knife on the floor of Dixon's apartment, the report states.
Dixon was transported for questioning at Gwinnett police headquarters and arrested hours later.
Two months later, Dixon would be transferred from Gwinnett's jail to DeKalb's, where he served several weeks for a pending DUI case before being released. Miller, the attorney, said Dixon was informed then that the Gwinnett charges had been dropped. So he uprooted to the Chicago area, where his mother was from, and where the family moved back to in fear of retaliation from Ramirez-Garcia, said Miller.
Miller said his client was never notified of a November 2010 arraignment in Gwinnett for the aggravated battery case. Following that hearing, a bench warrant was issued. Dixon was pulled over in Chicago for traffic violations, which showed he was wanted in Gwinnett. Georgia authorities extradited Dixon to Gwinnett, where he arrived in January 2011 and has remained jailed since, Miller said.
A Gwinnett Superior Court judge has denied bond for Dixon, calling him a flight risk, Miller said. He said his attempts to expedite the judicial process -- including a speedy trial demand filed in June -- have been futile.
"It's a travesty that this is going on," Miller said. "My client's been in jail over a year, and everything's being pushed off."
Miller maintains that Gwinnett prosecutors had not located Ramirez-Garcia in Mexico until January, despite claiming before a judge to know his whereabouts last year. Rich Vandever, assistant district attorney, said he wasn't privy to what transpired in earlier hearings and could not comment, but he insists due process for Dixon has not been compromised.
Miller said his research indicates the costs for Gwinnett taxpayers to bring Ramirez-Garcia back for trial will be exorbitant. Federal officials would not estimate the cost or elaborate on the case. Vandever said the situation is necessary and one his office handles frequently.
"They're not extradited. It's a voluntary thing just like any other witness," Vandever said. "We pay for their travel, we pay for their stay, we pay for their travel back. If we had to fly somebody from California, it'd be the same thing."
Vandever said his office has to apply to federal authorities to retrieve a witness or victim from outside the United States for court proceedings.
Vincent Picard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said people brought into the United States to testify who are not lawful citizens are granted what's called a "significant public benefit parole," which allows them to remain on a temporary basis. Picard noted the federal government incurs no costs for travel, lodging or security.
Picard could not elaborate on the deportation history of Ramirez-Garcia, citing federal policy and the pending trial. Vandever said discussing specifics of the case violates pre-trial rules, in that it could inflame a jury.
The issue of undocumented residents is juggled on a daily basis by local prosecutors. Immigrants in Gwinnett have become prime targets for criminals, in that they are known to carry cash, are reluctant to call police and are transient by nature.
"It's a really bad situation, and one that we can't turn a blind eye to," Vandever said. "Just because you might not be documented here doesn't mean you're not a victim. It's something we deal with all the time."
The next step in Dixon's case will involve a self-defense motion filed by Miller, which is scheduled to be heard in Superior Court on March 23. Miller hopes to illustrate that Dixon was merely defending himself and should never have been charged.