NBC’s ‘Dateline’ has been a staple of the newsmagazine genre ever since it premiered in 1992. Given how long it has been on the air, focusing primarily on true-crime tales with occasional editions on other topics, the series has an extensive archive of news stories and investigative journalism, with each week bringing us a new case to delve into. Their most recent episode, ‘Lone Star Obsession,’ chronicling the murder-for-hire plot against Dr. Joseph Sonnier, is no different. Besides, ’20/20: This Is Revenge’ also highlights the gruesome slaying and showcases how the authorities discovered the love triangle and simmering jealousy that ultimately resulted in such a grave loss. Well, let’s delve into the details and find out more, shall we?
How Did Dr. Joseph Sonnier Die?
Dr. Joseph Albert Sonnier III passed away at the age of 57 after living quite a successful life. He grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he and his family moved back in 1966. After graduating from Captain Shreve High School, he went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree from the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, which he earned summa cum laude in 1976. Following this, he received his medical degree from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport and did his residency in Pathology at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. It was on July 10, 2012, that Dr. Joseph lost his life, at his own expansive home in Lubbock, Texas, just after he arrived back from work.
The rich pathologist’s body wasn’t discovered until a day later by landscapers who had arrived to work on the house’s grounds. As soon as they figured that something was wrong, they dialed 911, and the authorities arrived shortly after. Dr. Joseph was then found inside his home, lying unconscious and bloody. After the area and his body was secured, the investigators began canvassing the crime scene for any evidence, turning up with practically nothing. But, while that was happening, the coroners were performing an autopsy, which confirmed that Dr. Joseph had been stabbed and shot to death – he had 11 puncture wounds and five bullet ones. It was a homicide through and through.
Who Killed Dr. Joseph Sonnier?
The police were initially stumped by the crime. No matter who they questioned or which path they went down, they couldn’t figure out who could have possibly wanted a doctor dead, and why! Later in that week, they got a tip from a man saying that he had been staying with David Shepard, who spoke of killing someone in Lubbock. He told the authorities that he did an online search, found information about Dr. Joseph Sonnier’s death, and thought he might have been David’s victim.
When the police questioned him, David Shepard revealed that his friend and business partner Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon paid him three silver bars, worth about $9,000, and a box of Cuban cigars in return for killing Dr. Joseph. Pawnshop records show that David cashed in those silver bars the day after the murder. On July 16, 2012, the same day the Sonnier family held Joseph’s funeral in Shreveport, Louisiana, Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon was arrested in connection with his killing. According to records, Thomas wanted Joseph dead because the latter had gotten romantically involved with his former girlfriend, Richelle Shetina, with whom he was still in love.
According to reports, Richelle Shetina met Dr. Joseph Sonnier in July 2011 while taking dance classes at the D’Venue Dance Studio in Lubbock, Texas. Although Thomas Dixon was still in love with Richelle at that time, she developed a close friendship with Joseph, which soon turned romantic. Moreover, once Richelle realized her feelings for Joseph, she never looked back and dreamt of a future together. Thomas was infuriated with this development as he wanted Richelle all to himself. Yet, she met him for the last time on October 31, 2011, in order to convince him that her heart belonged to someone else. Richelle even claimed that Joseph was aware of her meeting with Thomas, but none of them had any idea about the tragedy that would soon unfold.
Once Thomas realized that he could not convince Richelle to get back together, the doctor hatched a sinister plan and hired David to stalk the couple and drive a wedge between them. Interestingly, David tried to cause trouble of all kinds, and he even made one of Joseph’s ex-girlfriends text him. Yet, Joseph remained committed to Richelle, and their relationship got stronger with each passing day. That was when Thomas paid David to get rid of Dr. Joseph, and he stabbed and shot the victim to death on July 10, 2012.
Incidentally, Thomas first went on trial for murder in 2014, but due to David’s changed statements, the jury deadlocked, and a mistrial was ordered. A year later, he went on trial once again, and this time, David Shepard was not called to the stands. Instead, only witness testimonies and David’s initial confession was relied upon to convict him, and it worked. In November 2015, Thomas Michael Dixon was found guilty of two counts of capital murder in connection with Dr. Joseph Sonnier’s death. However, in December of 2018, the 7th District Court of Appeals in Amarillo accepted his appeal and reversed his conviction, granting him a new trial. Although David was out on bail since his conviction was overturned, Justices of the Seventh Court of Appeals revoked his bail in April 2020, forcing him to return to prison. Subsequently, in 2022, the court ruled that even though David was acquitted of the second count of capital murder, he was still convicted on the first count of murder and would continue serving a life sentence without parole.
Read More: Where Is Thomas Michael Dixon Now?