Editors’ Note on “A Deadly Dance”
An explanation for the clarifications and corrections to the story from our May 2015 issue.
Our May 2015 issue included a feature story by Skip Hollandsworth about the murder of a Lubbock doctor named Joseph Sonnier. Below I am including an editors’ note to that piece based on a letter we received from the lawyer of Richelle Shetina, who was dating Sonnier when he was killed. The story has been updated, and I have reprinted this note at the end of the story as well.
Editors’ note: This story contained multiple passages that Richelle Shetina claimed to be misleading or incorrect. In a letter, her lawyer writes that she was portrayed as a “gold-digging-marriage and relationship-wrecking divorcée.” We did not intend for our story to communicate that meaning or assert its truth. Shetina’s lawyer writes that she “had ended her relationship for entirely non-financial reasons with Dr. [Mike] Dixon months before she ever met Dr. Sonnier, and when she fell in love with Dr. Sonnier, it was for reasons unrelated to his wealth and status.” We also did not intend to suggest that she would have resumed a romantic relationship with Dixon, whom she had dated prior to meeting Sonnier. Dixon now stands accused of his murder.
A previous version of this story stated that Shetina was born in Salt Lake City and raised in Southern California. Shetina says she was “actually raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, and both Northern and Southern California.” We also stated that Shetina had once been a “cheerleader” for the Kansas City Chiefs. To clarify, she was a member of the Chiefettes, a dance team that performed at halftime, when she was a teenager living at home in the late seventies. In describing her previous husbands’ occupations, we referred to them as having worked for a “financial trading company” and in “the oil business,” respectively, but we did not intend to suggest that she had married either man for his money. According to Shetina, both men obtained those positions later in their careers, years after she had married them.
In reporting the time frame of when Shetina first met Dixon, we wrote that she was a patient at one of Dixon’s spas while she was still married. She says that they met only after her divorce from her second husband and that “it was Dr. Dixon who sought her out, found her on Facebook, and sent her a friend request.”
After describing Dixon’s qualities, we wrote, “And, of course, the fact that he had money didn’t hurt.” Shetina denies this and says that she was “only interested in having a potentially peaceful, kind, loving, caring, and happy relationship with Dr. Dixon at that time, and she never considered ‘the fact that he had money’ as a factor in her relationship.” We did not intend to convey any impression that Shetina dated Dixon for his money.
We wrote that, after her divorce, she moved to Lubbock because “she wanted to put some distance between herself and Dumas [where she had lived with her husband].” Shetina says that she moved “because it was an easy move for her as a single mother, and she had two close friends who lived in Lubbock.” She also wanted her sons to enroll in the Lubbock school district.
In describing a teapot and a tea-of-the-month-club membership she had received from Dixon as a birthday present, we wrote, in part, that she was insulted because “she was no doubt accustomed to receiving expensive gifts from the men in her life.” Shetina says that she was “upset” because Dixon had mailed her the gift “instead of personally bringing [it] to her, regardless of value.” We regret the error.
In reporting an exchange between Dixon and Shetina, we printed a text from her in which she wrote she would consider seeing him again only “unless an engagement accompanied by a gigantic diamond ring were imminent.” Shetina says that her text was in the “context of prior communication with Dr. Dixon” and that she was joking. Though Dixon claimed that they discussed marriage, Shetina says the topic never came up “except eventually to tell him that she would not marry him.” We reported that Shetina had dated other men after the breakup with Dixon. She says that is false and that “the only man she dated after Dr. Dixon was Dr. Sonnier until he was murdered.” We also reported that toward the end of the summer of 2011 Shetina and Dixon went on a few dates together. Shetina says these were not “dates” but rather “meetings” involving small talk.
Shetina also says that she did not pursue a relationship with Sonnier and that she gave him her number only after he asked her for it. Her lawyer also writes, “When Shetina and Dr. Sonnier became involved in a romantic relationship, she did so because she considered him to be a very intelligent, loving, gentle, and unselfish man with whom she fell in love, and she did not become involved with him because of his wealth and status.”
According to court documents, Dixon said that he had told Shetina that he had wanted to take her to Paris. Shetina says she “did not have any such conversation with Dr. Dixon about any proposed trip to Paris, France.”
We reported that Dixon attended a Pathways program session in Dallas “to close the door” on his relationship with Shetina. Shetina says that he went hoping to see her.
We reported that “as far as she knew, Dixon was happy with his new girlfriend.” Shetina says that “she did not know anything about Dr. Dixon’s personal life . . . at that time.”We wrote that Shetina was “chagrined” by all of the attention surrounding the case. We did not intend to suggest that in a negative way. Shetina says she has “no reason to be ‘chagrined’ in such context.” We also reported that, “according to Lubbock gossip,” Shetina was dating “a wealthy West Texas oilman.” In fact, she is dating a small-business owner in Abilene and the only oil he owns “is the oil he puts in his pickup truck.” We regret the error.
We reported that Sonnier and Shetina discussed marriage but that he had “grown weary” of her insistence on a proposal. Shetina says this is false and that the couple “never had any conversations about getting married.” Shetina says the article also implied that she “wrecked Dr. Sonnier’s relationship with one of his ex-girlfriends.” We did not intend to convey that meaning, only to report that the ex-girlfriend was devastated when Sonnier became involved with Shetina.