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Joe Elton NIXON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 12, 1984
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: August 23, 1961
Victim profile: Jeanne Bickner
Method of murder: Tied the victim to a tree with jumper cables, and set her on fire
Location: Leon County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on July 30, 1985

Florida Supreme Court

opinion 2000 opinion 2003 opinion 2006 opinion 2009

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.


On 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 death.

Location of victim

On 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 Correctional Institution.


Joe Elton Nixon

DC# 910610
DOB:  08/23/61

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 cables.

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.

On 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 rings.

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.

Trial Summary: 

08/29/84          Indicted as follows:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder
Count II:          Felony Kidnapping
Count III:         Robbery with no Firearm or Deadly Weapon
Count IV:        
 Arson Willfully Damaging a Dwelling

09/10/84          Pled not guilty.

07/22/85          Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment

07/25/85          Jury recommended death by a vote of 10-2

07/30/85          Sentenced as follows:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder – Death
Count II:          Felony Kidnapping – Life
Count III:         Robbery with no Firearm or Deadly Weapon – 15 years
Count IV:        
 Arson Willfully Damaging a Dwelling – 15 years

Case Information:

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.

On 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.

On 10/04/89, 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 into evidence.

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 evidentiary hearing.

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. 

The 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 07/10/03.     

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. 

On 12/13/04, 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 retarded. 

On 06/16/06, the rehearing was denied.  The mandate was issued on 07/05/06.



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