Osage County sheriff's trial moved to St. Louis County

LINN, Mo. — Osage County Sheriff Michael Dixon will face his felony tampering with a motor vehicle charge in St. Louis County.

Special Judge Richard Bresnahan, who is a St. Louis County circuit judge, ordered the relocation Thursday morning, during Dixon’s formal arraignment on the charge of taking a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle last June 26, even though the owner told him not to take it.

Since Osage County has fewer than 75,000 residents, Bresnahan noted a Supreme Court rule makes granting Dixon’s change-of-venue request “automatic.”

Dixon’s lawyer, Travis L. Noble of St. Louis County, told reporters after Thursday morning’s five-minute hearing: “We wanted to take a change of venue, so that we could be in a position to get a jury pool that wouldn’t be familiar with all the backdrop, gossip and all of the other craziness that goes on in these cases.

“And the politics behind everything that’s going on.”

After Dixon’s first court appearance last Oct. 13, Noble told reporters he was comfortable with having Dixon’s case tried by residents who may have helped elect the first-term sheriff in November 2012.

But Thursday morning, he said: “The more I thought about it in terms of picking a jury, and the more I’ve gotten into this case, and the more I’ve seen some of the politics behind some of what’s been going on, the more comfortable I felt taking this case outside of the area to pick 12 jurors.”

Phelps County Prosecutor John Beger, appointed as a special prosecutor in the case, last September filed one felony and four misdemeanor charges against Dixon, 27, after a Highway Patrol investigation of complaints involving two incidents two days apart last June.

The complaints and investigation focused on Dixon’s relationship with and actions involving a woman — identified in the court documents only as C.M. — who was a police officer under Dixon’s authority when he was Belle’s police chief.

At the beginning of Thursday’s hearing, Beger dismissed the four misdemeanor charges — first-degree sexual misconduct, third-degree assault, harassment and stalking.

The tampering with a motor vehicle charge is a class C felony. If Dixon is convicted he could face a prison sentence of up to seven years, or a year in the county jail, and a fine up to $5,000.

He has called the accusations leading to the charges “baseless.”

Before the case gets to trial, Noble told Bresnahan he wants to take “eight to 10 depositions.”

“I think there are witnesses who will be called, on both sides, to try to weed out truth from fiction,” he said after the court hearing.

“Though witnesses have made statements, they haven’t been challenged, yet. Nobody’s questioned their ulterior motives, who they’re connected to or why things may have been said.”

Noble said some of those he deposes before the trial “will be surprised when they end up with a subpoena and they’re required to come in and give a deposition under oath.”

The trial date will be set later and could last three to five days.

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