Joe Elton Nixon (born
August 23, 1961)
is an American career criminal and convicted murderer currently on Death
Row in Florida. Nixon was convicted in the kidnapping and murder of a
woman from a Tallahassee, Florida shopping mall parking lot.
August 12, 1984,
Nixon approached Jeanne Bickner in the parking lot of the Governor's
Square Mall in Tallahassee, Florida. Nixon asked Bickner if she could
help with jump-starting his car. Bickner later offered Nixon a ride home
which he accepted. Once on the road in Bickner's 1973 MG sports car,
Nixon ordered the woman to drive to a remote location. Nixon eventually
overpowered Bickner and stopped the car. Nixon placed Bickner into the
trunk of the car and drove to a wooded area in southern Leon County,
Florida. Nixon removed Bickner from the trunk and tied her to a tree
with jumper cables, and set her on fire, which eventually led to her
Location of victim
August 13, 1984,
Bickner's charred body was located by a couple of joggers passing
through the wooded area. Around this same time, Nixon learned that
Bickner's body was located and became nervous, which led him to burn
Bickner's personal belongings as well as the MG. Nixon later confessed
to family members that he had committed a murder, who then called police.
Nixon was arrested a short time later and was charged with the
kidnapping and murder of Bickner.
Nixon was convicted of murder, kidnapping, armed
robbery, and arson, and was sentenced on
July 30, 1985
to die in Florida's electric chair. Nixon is currently on death row
where he is awaiting his sentence to be carried out at the Union
Joe Elton Nixon
Second Judicial Circuit, Leon
County Case# 84-2324-CF
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable
J. Lewis Hall, Jr.
Trial Attorneys: Michael M.
Corin – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal:
Whitney T. Strickland – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeals:
Eric M. Freedman – Private
Date of Offense: 08/12/84
Date of Sentence: 07/30/85
Circumstances of the Offense:
On 08/12/84, Jeanne Bickner, the
victim, went to a local mall to have lunch with friends. After lunch,
she was seen in the parking lot giving jumper cables to a black man from
the trunk of her car, an orange MG convertible.
The events, according to
the taped confession Joe Nixon gave police, occurred as follows: Nixon
had asked Bickner to take him to his uncle’s house because he was having
car trouble, which Bickner agreed.
While Bickner was driving, Nixon hit
her in the face causing her to stop the car. Nixon proceeded to force
Bickner into the trunk of the car. He then drove to a secluded wooded
area. He took Bickner from the car and tied her to a tree with jumper
The two then talked about their lives. During this period,
Bickner offered to give Nixon money or sign over her car to him; she
begged him not to kill her. Nixon began to burn some of Bickner’s
personal belongings and proceeded to add the convertible top of the car
to the burning pile.
Nixon then placed a paper bag over Bickner’s head
and, before he drove away, he threw the burning top of the car onto
Bickner setting her on fire. The medical examiner testified that Bickner
was alive at the time she was set on fire, and that the fire was the
cause of her death.
On Monday, 8/13/84, a couple
that was passing through the woods found Bickner’s remains. They
reported the scene to the police. Bickner was found in a seated position
by a pine tree. She had been secured to the tree by jumper cables that
were tied around her waist. Her left arm was tied to another tree.
Tuesday, 8/14/84, Bickner’s car was found in a drainage ditch. The
interior and trunk were gutted by fire.
On 8/14/84, Nixon was arrested.
Wanda Robinson, Nixon’s girlfriend, and his brother, John, had given
information to the police that resulted in the arrest. John told the
police that Nixon had admitted to killing a white woman by tying her to
a tree with jumper cables and burning her.
Both John and Robinson told
the police that they had seen Nixon driving the victim’s car the
previous day and on the morning of 8/14/01. Nixon told both of them that
he was going to burn the car. Both also stated that Nixon had shown them
two of Bickner’s rings and that he later stated that he had pawned the
Testimony at the trial revealed
that Nixon had attempted to sell the MG prior to burning it. In
addition, a pawnshop receipt was found signed by Nixon for both rings
and Nixon’s palm print was found on the lid of the trunk of the MG.
08/29/84 Indicted as
Count I: First-Degree
Count II: Felony Kidnapping
Count III: Robbery with no Firearm or Deadly
Arson Willfully Damaging
Pled not guilty.
07/22/85 Jury returned
guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment
recommended death by a vote of 10-2
07/30/85 Sentenced as
Count I: First-Degree Murder
Count II: Felony Kidnapping
Count III: Robbery with no Firearm or
Deadly Weapon – 15 years
Arson Willfully Damaging a
Dwelling – 15 years
Nixon filed his Direct Appeal on
09/03/85 to the Florida Supreme Court. The main claim was ineffective
counsel based on comments made by the counsel during opening statements
and closing arguments that conceded guilt without record approval of
Nixon. Trial counsel utilized this defense in an attempt to seek
leniency. Nixon states that the position taken by trial counsel is the
equivalent of a guilty plea.
The Florida Supreme Court remanded the case
to the trial court on 10/27/87 for an evidentiary hearing to decide if
Nixon was informed of and voluntarily consented to this strategy. The
trial court relinquished jurisdiction of the case on 01/15/88 to seek
clarification from the Florida Supreme Court on the above order.
10/04/88, the Florida Supreme Court handed down an order clarifying the
procedure for the evidentiary hearing: the evidentiary hearing should
be conducted with the rights of examination and cross-examination by the
defendant and the State and that the defendant was allowed to present
witnesses but not the State. The trial court did not interpret the order
in such a manner to require findings and conclusions; therefore, the
Florida Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court on 02/01/89.
At this time, the State was allowed to present witnesses; however, the
State’s examination of Corin, Nixon’s trial counsel, was limited only to
the issues addressed during his testimony for the defense due to the
fact that Nixon would not waive attorney-client privilege.
the trial court found that Nixon had not sustained his burden of proof.
On 11/29/89, the Court declined to dispose of this claim without
prejudice in order to have it raised in a later 3.850 Motion.
Nixon raised three other issues
on his Direct Appeal: the prosecutor made an impermissible “Golden
Rule” argument, Nixon’s absence during critical proceedings during the
trial, and trial court allowing seven photographs of the victim entered
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the comments during
the State’s closing argument did not amount to a Golden Rule argument,
that it was not an error to proceed with the trial in Nixon’s absence,
and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the
photographs. The remaining claims were rejected, found to have no merit,
or properly ruled on by the trial court and the Florida Supreme Court
subsequently affirmed Nixon’s conviction and sentence.
A Petition for Writ for
Certiorari was filed to the United States Supreme Court on 06/20/91,
which was subsequently denied on 10/07/91.
A 3.850 Motion was filed to the
Circuit Court on 10/07/93, which was denied on 10/22/97 without an
On 12/15/97, Nixon filed a 3.850
Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. On 06/09/98, the Petition for Writ
of Habeas Corpus was also filed to the Florida Supreme Court. On
01/27/00, an opinion from the Court was issued consolidating the two
cases and remanding both cases back to the trial court for an
evidentiary hearing on Nixon’s ineffective counsel claim – specifically
whether Nixon consented to defense strategy to concede.
A rehearing on
this opinion was denied on 06/09/00, and a mandate was issued on
07/31/00. The evidentiary hearing was held on 05/11/01. An order was
issued 09/20/01; the trial court denied the 3.850 Motion by finding that
Corin did provide Nixon with effective counsel.
An appeal of the trial court’s
denial of the 3.850 Motion was filed to the Florida Supreme Court on
11/08/01. The main issue in this appeal was whether Nixon agreed to his
trial counsel’s, Corin, strategy to concede guilt although he pled not
guilty. Corin testified that he did consult Nixon about the concession,
but he did not verbally agree or disagree with the decision.
Florida Supreme Court found that silence is not enough to prove that
Nixon agreed to Corin’s decision, resulting in the conclusion that Corin
was ineffective counsel. They remanded the case for a new trial on
The Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus that was filed on 06/09/98 was dismissed as moot due to the order
that remanded the case for a new trial on 07/10/03.
On 12/22/03, Nixon filed a
Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court,
which was granted on 03/01/04. The Court will hear issues on the
effectiveness standards of counsel, and held that claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel based on counsel’s concession of guilt to the
crime charged, even without the defendant’s consent, are to be analyzed
under the principles of Strickland v. Washington.
the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Florida
Supreme Court and remanded the case for reconsideration.
On 04/20/06, the Florida Supreme
Court readdressed the ineffective assistance of counsel claim on the
issue of concession of guilt without Nixon’s consent, and addressed
other issues raised in Nixon’s 3.850 Appeal and affirmed the trial
court’s denial of Nixon’s 3.850 Motion. The Court concluded that trial
counsel, Corin, was not ineffective conceding guilt to first-degree
murder. The Court also found no error in the trial court’s summary
denial of six other claims raised in Nixon’s 3.850 Motion. On 06/16/06,
the rehearing was denied. The mandate was issued on 07/05/06.
On 04/20/06, the Florida Supreme
Court addressed the issues raised in Nixon’s Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus and denied habeas relief. Nixon raised three of the following
claims: (1) ineffective counsel, (2) death sentence is unconstitutional
based on Ring and Apprendi issues, and (3) mental
incompetence to stand trial. The Court concluded that (1) counsel
ineffectiveness has not been demonstrated, (2) the Ring case is
not applicable because Nixon’s case became final before Ring was
decided, and (3) the record does not demonstrate that Nixon is mentally
On 06/16/06, the rehearing was denied. The mandate was
issued on 07/05/06.