Kenneth Ohler knew he was going to prison for the rest of his life Thursday for coldly killing the stepfather of a young man he’d been stalking.
Ohler, 48, didn’t speak at his sentence hearing for his December 2016 murder of Michael Dixon, 60, in Dixon’s East Peoria home. He didn’t flinch when a prosecutor called him a “cold, calculating, arrogant” manipulator who shot a man who, his son said, “could walk into a room with 20 strangers and come out with 20 friends.”
Tazewell County Circuit Judge Thomas Keith called Dixon a kind, “selfless” man as he sentenced Ohler to natural life in prison for murder and the same, consecutively, for home invasion.
At the least, Ohler could have received 76 years for entering Dixon’s home without permission and, as he sat on a couch, pulled out a handgun and shot Dixon as the man stood before him and calmly told him to leave.
From the kitchen, Dixon’s wife heard him say, “Seriously, you’re going to shoot me? Shoot me.”
The gunshot sent her fleeing out the patio door of the couple’s home in the 800 block of Springfield Road. Police arrived minutes later to find Ohler lying on the couch with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest.
Prosecutors argued in Ohler’s trial early this month that the former New Mexico man, who came to manage sales at a Peoria auto dealership five months earlier, went to the home the evening of Dec. 29 to kill Dixon’s stepson.
When he learned the young man wasn’t home, he instead shot Dixon. Ohler then spoke with his dying victim but never used those few minutes to seek help for him, Keith said.
Ohler had hired Alex Preciado, now 25, as a salesman at first sight when Preciado came to sell his pickup truck, then pursued a relationship as his mentor and Ohler’s “only friend” in Peoria, Ohler testified. His rage grew as Preciado sought to distance himself from Ohler and exploded when Preciado obtained a court protection order against him, prosecutors said.
Keith noted that Ohler’s selfish anger had prompted him in the past to aim a handgun at an elderly couple in a road rage incident and shout in restaurants over mistakes in his food orders.
Ohler described himself in a pre-sentence report as “depressed, lonely and hurting” over Preciado’s rejection of him, Keith said.
Referring to the two dozen family members and friends of Dixon in the courtroom, he told Ohler, “They’re the ones depressed, lonely and hurting.”
Jeanette Dixon, Keith said, “lost her husband of 17 years and all their plans for retirement” that Dixon had recently begun after 30 years as a welder at Caterpillar Inc.
Dixon’s son, Shane Michael Dixon, told Keith his father taught him to “be kind to everyone you meet, because you never know whether they’re having a bad day.”
The Dixons had invited Ohler to share Thanksgiving dinner with their family. When Ohler returned to the home the next month, “the whole family was robbed,” Dixon’s son said.
Ohler still faces charges of soliciting for murder and aggravated arson. Two fellow inmates in Tazewell County's jail told investigators he sought to hire them to blow up or set fire to Dixon's house while his widow and stepson slept in order to remove them as witnesses in his murder case.