Most NFL fans, media members and the Philly D.A.'s office were impressed with Jason Fagone's in-depth look at Harrison's crazy gun case. Today, he shares with us some sections cut from the story and his own insights about the case.
— ROBERT NIXON. In my mind this was the major "scoop" or "get" or whatever in the piece — the interview with Nixon, and the story of the shooting through his eyes. I'd gotten the impression from other reporting that Nixon was only a peripheral figure, no big deal — probably a hustler out for Harrison's cash. Dwight Dixon was the main event, and this Nixon guy was a sideshow. Not so. Nixon is actually a central figure in the tale, for a couple reasons:
1. No dog in the fight. Unlike Dwight Dixon, who'd been feuding with Marvin Harrison, Nixon was a mere bystander on the day of the shooting. He wasn't friends with either guy. He was just some schlub who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the gun (or guns) started popping off. So he offered the cops as close to an impartial account of the fight and the subsequent shooting as they were going to get.
2. He got shot. Verifiably. Cops checked hospital records and saw that Nixon sought treatment for a minor bullet wound in the days after the shooting.
3. The cop who patted down Nixon minutes after the shooting remembered him later, and was able to place Nixon at the scene, lending credibility to his witness account.
4. Nixon's criminal record is far less intense than Dwight Dixon's.... drug-possession raps and assorted misdemeanors. Not an alpha dog by any means.
But OK ... forget all of that for a second. Forget that prosecutors, before they publicly slammed Nixon as a liar, believed his story enough to place him in protective custody. Forget that they never charged him with making a false report (like they did with Dwight Dixon). Forget that the detectives I talked to said that in their eyes Nixon's story was credible and made sense. Let's stipulate that Robert Nixon is a scammer and a liar, a poor man suing a rich man for a piece of the rich man's fortune, and that I was wrong (as some of the more eloquent critics of the story have argued) to narrate the opening scene through Nixon's eyes. In fact, let's stipulate that BOTH witnesses against Harrison are lying their asses off — Nixon and Dwight Dixon both. You've still got a strong case that Harrison was the shooter in April 2008, just from the physical evidence alone — the gun, the casings, the ballistics tests — and also from Harrison's own words in the statement he gave to police. These are evidential luxuries that cops consider themselves lucky to get. As one detective told me, "The physical evidence in this case was stronger than in 85 percent of cases I've won."
— STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. The weirdest thing about the Harrison case was the unusual alliances it spawned. On one side, you had:
1. The cops
2. The "pieces of shit" the cops usually spend their time arresting
3. The criminal defense lawyers who represent said pieces of shit and are thereby detested by the cops
While on the other side you had:
1. A D.A. who had been elected on promises to crack down on handgun crime
2. A man whose handgun had been conclusively tied to a broad-daylight shooting that injured two adult men and a two-year-old child
Like I said: weird. The investigation was unfolding in this bizarro-world version of normal reality, where hard-bitten detectives stand up and vouch for the credibility of street hustlers, and prosecutors act like defense attorneys, explaining that the truth is all relative and it's pointless to even try to figure it out.
— GUNS. In the last day or two I've seen a few folks trying to defend the Fabrique Nationale 5.7 Herstal — Harrison's gun — as some type of legitimate civilian weapon. Um, no. Just no. Sure, I get that Harrison, as a rich guy in a poor neighborhood, may have had sensible reasons to own and carry guns. But the 5.7 is a gun with really no defensible civilian use. It was designed to be used by international peacekeepers to frag heavily armored bad guys, and to spray lots of metal at very close distances. It uses the same ammo as its sister weapon, the P90 submachine gun, which looks like something out of Halo 3. The bullet is long and skinny and travels at very high speeds. None of this is a secret. You can go to the company's website and read about the gun's pedigree, where it came from. It's a military gun that only seeped into the civilian market because American gun laws are so lax. It costs about $1,100. Harrison owned two of them.
If Harrison wanted a gun for self-defense, he picked the wrong gun. A guy named "Wayne H" recently emailed me and said that I was wrong to say that the 5.7 is not a collectible weapon; "The FN 5.7 is an odd ball," Wayne wrote. "Many that buy it do so because it is odd and thus collectible." But then he added, "Very few people would buy this gun for self defense because the wounds are less severe than most. Look at the FT. Hood shootings, 30 wounded. An effective cartridge would do more than wound." Whoever was carrying that gun on that Philadelphia block in April 2008 was perpetrating a highly unneighborly act, because, according to Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center, "It's the kind of bullet that would go through walls. If you wanted a gun for self-defense, the shotgun is the best idea.... This gun, because of its high velocity, would just blast through lots of things before it stopped, and it would be very dangerous to your neighbors or anyone in the general vicinity."
— DWIGHT DIXON. If I'd had more space, I would have tried to humanize Dixon a little more. For all his flaws — yeah, he was a loudmouth, a convicted drug dealer, and in the words of one cop, "a parasite on society" — he was also a recent father of a one-year-old boy. According to his family, in the months before he was gunned down, Dixon was planning to take his boy to Disney World; he discussed the trip incessantly. He was also putting in hours in a legitimate job at L.A. Fitness. "He was turning himself around," his cousin told me. When I sat down with Dixon's mother, Pearl Bronson, she was honest about her son's troubles. "By no means at all is my son an angel," she said. "But he didn't deserve this." Pearl Bronson was also insistent that her son didn't own or fool around with guns, despite the casings that were discovered in the cab of his truck. "He was no killer. No ... a true killer? Marvin Harrison wouldn't be around."
— THE STATEMENT. I can't emphasize enough how odd it is that Harrison gave a voluntary statement to the cops. Even the cops could hardly believe it. Aside from the physical evidence, it's the thing that could do Harrison the most harm, and it's a totally self-inflicted wound.
A couple snippets from the statement that we didn't have space to quote. Here's Harrison talking about how his dispute with Dwight "Pop" Dixon turned physical:
So on the Monday after what happened at Playmakers, POP shows up at my carwash and wants his car washed. My employees tell him no. He starts with them about, why is it because of what the fuck I said to MARV. He starts carrying on about this and that. He would show up like almost everyday at my carwash. He would say things about how he was looking to get me. He would say things like he was going to fuck me up. I wouldn't let him inside my place of business. Sometimes he would just hang out on the block with his vehicle. Right there down by the corner of 25th and Thompson sts. He even showed up again at PLAYMAKERS last Friday. He was running his mouth in front of my business about how he would fuck me up, and fuck the bar up. Again I instructed my employees that he was not permitted to enter.
And here's Harrison closing the door on a self-defense alibi:
Q. Did you ever see POP with a gun in his possession during any of these disputes?
A. No, but part of the reason he was barred from the club was because he was with a person who had a gun and was trying to come into the club that night. I don't allow guns inside of my establishment and so my security people are instructed to frisk patrons before they enter to make sure no one is carrying. His friend supposedly had a gun and so they were denied entrance.
— HARRISON'S BAR. The only obvious piece of Harrison memorabilia on display at Playmakers is a replica of his Super Bowl trophy behind the bar, flanked by two bottles of Great Western champagne ($7 a bottle). I interpreted this as a joke that Marvin was having at his own expense, a bit of extreme self-deprecation. It made me like him. A sports bar owned by a sports hero is supposed to be a shrine — a place close to a freeway exit where white people can eat jalapeno poppers surrounded by tokens of the hero's greatness. This was an anti-shrine. And not one that sold cheap liquor, either. Like I say in the piece, the bar is classy. Also heavily fortified, with a grid of security cameras wired to a flat-screen monitor visible to the bartenders.
— GENERAL CRAZINESS. There's a bunch of detail we had to cut because it was so weird that in an already crazy story, it just would have been too much. Like the fact that the lawyer representing Robert Nixon, a guy named Wadud Ahmad, who's a respected criminal defense attorney in Philly (and a former prosecutor under Lynne Abraham), happens to moonlight as a spoken-word artist and slam poet. Ahmad has recorded with The Roots; if you ever listened to Game Theory, you heard his voice on "Take It There":
The villains, abandoning the planet and the people
Another hot summer yo, they 'bout to flood the prisons ...