Canadian hitchhiking across U.S. sent to prison in stabbing of homeless man

A Winnipeg man’s relatives say they’re shocked that he’s been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the fatal stabbing of a homeless man in California.

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg man’s relatives say they’re shocked that he’s been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the fatal stabbing of a homeless man in California.

They say Patrick Mark Dillon, who was hitchhiking across the U.S., is a loving family man who likes to rescue animals.

Dillon, who is 40, was convicted June 1 in a California court of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of Carlos Caldera.

The two were fishing on the Colorado River near Blythe, Calif.

Dillon worked in retail before going on disability because of a heart problem.

He had set out to hitchhike across the United States a few weeks before the stabbing.

“He just needed a break,” said his wife Teresa Dillon.

She said the family had just arranged to buy Dillon a plane ticket in December 2008 so he could be home for Christmas. Instead, he was arrested in Caldera’s slaying.

Court documents say Caldera, 57, and his mother picked up Dillon while on their way back to a campground where they lived. He stayed with them for the night.

The next day, after Caldera and Dillon went fishing on the river, Dillon left. Caldera was found shortly afterward bleeding and face-down on the riverbank. An autopsy showed he had been stabbed about 40 times, a prosecutor said.

Dillon’s lawyer argued that his client acted in self-defence after Caldera attacked him with a hammer. Deputy public defender Neil Harrison testified at the trial that Dillon prompted the attack by making fun of Caldera’s religion.

Court heard no hammer was ever found.

Dillon’s family was never asked to testify.

They speak highly of the husband, father of seven and grandfather of three.

“I cannot imagine him doing anything of the sort. I’ve never, ever seen him hurt anybody. He won’t hurt an animal,” said Linda Dillon, his sister, who owns three stray cats he rescued. “The Patrick I know — it just doesn’t compute.”

The family has sent Dillon money. His brother and mother are planning to visit him. His wife said she is standing by him and is considering a request for him to serve his time in Canada.

It’s not Dillon’s first run-in with the law. He spent eight years in prison for several break-ins in the early 1990s. Relatives say he never committed another crime until the stabbing, which they believe was in self-defence.

“He’s very kind-hearted,” his wife said. “He’s not confrontational. He’s not one to go out and pick fights.”