Published November 17, 2014
Two boys left to die during a bloody rampage in a Memphis home turned into key witnesses who helped convict their uncle of six murders in one of the city's worst mass slayings.
Jurors concluded Monday after less than two hours of deliberations that Jessie Dotson, 35, shot his brother in the head during an argument, then used two guns to kill five other people, including two young nephews, trying to eliminate all witnesses. He then stabbed three more boys, who hung on for some 40 hours until help arrived, prosecutors said.
Two years later, two of the survivors pointed to their "Uncle Junior" as the man who shot their dad and slashed at them knives, enough to convince the jury that Dotson was guilty of six murders and not the gang members he said committed the crimes. Those same jurors will decide beginning Tuesday if Dotson should be sentenced to death by injection. Dotson showed no emotion, looking straight ahead as the verdict was announced.
One of the survivors, Cecil Dotson Jr., now 11, was found in a bathtub with a 4½-inch knife blade embedded in his skull. The boy, his brother 8-year-old Cedric Dotson, and Jessie Dotson's mother were key prosecution witnesses.
"CJ solved it," said prosecutor Ray Lepone. "He had the courage to come in here and point out his uncle."
Jurors concluded that the short, thin Dotson after a day of drinking, shot and killed his brother, Cecil Dotson, in the dark early morning hours of March 2, 2008. Then he went after everyone else in the house with two guns, boards and several knives, leaving no DNA evidence behind in the house, which the defense pointed out.
Also killed were 4-year-old Cemario Dotson and 2-year-old Cecil Dotson Jr. II; Cecil Dotson's girlfriend, Marissa Williams; and friends Hollis Seals and Shindri Roberson.
Defense attorney Gerald Skahan said his client wasn't happy with the verdict, but understood it, as did the defense team. The defense was disappointed in the speed of the verdict, said attorney Marty McAfee.
"I don't see how they could have looked at everything in that time," McAfee said. "They might have been thinking about as it was being put forward. Everyone in town expected this to be a whipping. Instead it was a fist fight."
Jessie Dotson, in his testimony, blamed the attack on gang members. He said he was at the house on Lester Street, a poor and crime-ridden part of Memphis, and hid under a bed during the slayings. He said he didn't report them to police because he feared for his life.
However, prosecutors put Dotson Jr. — who was 9 at the time of the attack — on the stand last week. He testified that during the attack, he went to call for police and tried to fight off his uncle before ending up in the bathtub with a kitchen knife in his head. Paramedics testified they thought the boy was dead until he twitched.
The boys were in the courtroom Monday with two older women. They wore shirts and ties and spent the time coloring. At one point, Cedric pointed at a photo of him in the hospital. Cecil Dotson Jr. — known as CJ — has telltale scars on his head.
The prosecutor praised the police work and both boys for testifying. No media access was given to family members after the verdict, but Lepone said they were pleased with the decision.
Jessie Dotson's defense contended the massacre was done by gang members who were angry at Cecil Dotson and were seeking to punish him for telling police that one of his fellow "Gangster Disciples" had drugs in the apartment where he was staying. The defense tried to point the finger at several known gang members.
Willie Boyd Hill, a self-described retired gang member, said the "Gangster Disciples'" local leader Doc Holliday discussed punishment for Cecil Dotson Jr. but they were not involved. Gangs don't go after families, Hill said.
Experienced police officers who have testified have said the attack left a crime scene that was the most gruesome they've seen.
It was the next day, March 3, before police were called and found Dotson Jr. in the bathtub. While he was recovering at the hospital he first told police a man named Roger or Roderick attacked his family. He later told officers it was "Uncle Junior."
Authorities said Dotson, who served prison time for murder and was released about seven months before the killings, escaped from the house by riding off on a child's bicycle. They introduced a confession to police and his mother days after the bodies were found.
Dotson threatened suicide as the investigation progressed, saying, "They're going to put this on me," according to testimony.
The jury was selected in Nashville because of intense local news coverage of the case, and jurors heard more than two weeks' worth of emotionally grueling testimony.