Authorities in Asheville, North Carolina are investigating the murder of Candace Elaine Pickens, a 23-year-old pregnant college student who was found dead next to her 3-year-old child in a park on May 12.
Pickens’ aunt, Irene Jenny Pickens, told the Washington Post that Pickens’ partner, Nathaniel Elijah Dixon, 24, wanted Pickens to have an abortion against her will. She added that relatives believed the couple had a volatile relationship based on Pickens’ recent Facebook posts.
Dixon appeared in court last week on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury to Pickens’ son, Zachaeus Latese Waters, the Citizen-Times reported.
Zachaeus, who underwent brain surgery and lost an eye after allegedly being shot by Dixon, is being treated at a local hospital.
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Police said Dixon fled to Columbus, Ohio, following the incident but was found and arrested the day after a jogger found Pickens and Zachaeus in the grass. He has waived his right to extradition back to North Carolina and remains lodged in an Ohio jail, the Citizen-Times reported.
Columbus Police Department’s spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis told local media that Dixon had been holding a 21-year-old Asheville woman hostage when Ohio officers found him.
Before his arrest, Dixon portrayed innocence and sadness about Pickens’ death by posting three status updates on Facebook—including two videos featuring Pickens.
Dixon had a history of violence and misconduct and had been a suspected member of a Los Angeles-based gang.
The Citizen-Times reported Dixon served a four-year prison sentence beginning in 2009 for attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon. In November 2014, local authorities had held Dixon without bond for numerous criminal charges, including assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Some of the other charges, which were later dropped as part of a guilty plea made in March 2015, included trespassing, possession of a firearm by a felon, and discharging a firearm in the city.
Dixon had faced allegations of threatening to kill another woman with whom he had a child. That woman had filed domestic violence protective orders against Dixon in 2014 and 2015 for physical violence and for threatening to kill her.
A judge dismissed the first complaint because both parties did not appear for a scheduled hearing. Authorities dismissed the second request because Dixon could not be located.
Suspected domestic violence victims like Pickens have protections under North Carolina General Statute 50B-1. The state law defines domestic violence and allows authorities to provide civil action, emergency relief, and temporary orders, among other options.
Around 324,000 pregnant people in the United States experience domestic abuse annually, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. About one in four pregnant people who are sexually or physically abused by their partner report reproductive coercion, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).
Murder is the second most common cause of injury-related death for pregnant people, trailing only car accidents, per the NCADV.
Tara Romano, a domestic violence activist and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said in a phone interview with Rewire that domestic violence comes in many forms, including reproductive coercion. This can involve a partner tampering with or refusing to allow use of birth control, or forcing a person to carry a pregnancy.
“It’s all about power and control,” Romano said. “We don’t actually know what [Dixon’s] motive was, but it always comes down to control.”
Romano added that, during pregnancy, violence often heightens because abusers become jealous and want to assert that they are the central focus of the pregnant person’s life.
Romano stressed the importance of educating domestic abuse survivors about the resources available to them and reaching out to local agencies on behalf of people who may need help ending an abusive relationship.