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Valentino Dixon

Other Erie County, NY Exonerations
At about 1 a.m. on August 10, 1991, nearly 100 people were hanging out at the intersection of East Delevan and Bailey Avenues near Louie’s Texas Red Hots in Buffalo, New York, when a fistfight broke out.

Two brothers, 17-year-old Torriano Jackson and 20-year-old Aaron Jackson, were atop 19-year-old Mario Jarmon, kicking and punching him, when someone yelled, “Watch out, he’s got a gun!” As people scattered, more than two dozen gunshots rang out.

When the shooting stopped and people began to return to the intersection, Torriano Jackson was dead. Aaron Jackson and Jarmon were wounded. A bystander, 17-year-old John Sullivan, suffered a graze wound on his leg.

Police collected 27 nine-millimeter shell casings, one .22 caliber casing, one .32 caliber casing, and two guns—a .32-caliber pistol and a .22-caliber pistol.

Not long after, police said an anonymous caller said the shooting was the culmination of a feud over a girl named Heather Smith, who had dated one of the Jackson brothers and 21-year-old Valentino Dixon.

Sullivan, who was a friend of Torriano Jackson, viewed a photographic lineup and identified the gunman as someone he knew as “Tino.” Sullivan said he saw the gunman stand over Torriano Jackson and fire at least five shots at the prone and already wounded Jackson.

Less than 10 hours after the shooting, police arrested Dixon at Jarmon’s house, just a couple of blocks away from the shooting.

Dixon was subsequently identified in photographic lineups by Sullivan, Aaron Jackson, and a bystander, Emile Adams. Dixon was charged with the murder of Torriano Jackson, the attempted murder of Aaron Jackson, the assault of Sullivan, and criminal possession of a weapon.

At the time, Dixon was out on bail awaiting sentencing after he pled guilty in June 1991 to two drive-by shootings—one in April 1990 that injured no one, and another in November 1990 that left one man slightly wounded.

Police interviewed Mario Jarmon at the hospital. He said Torriano Jackson shot him. Two other witnesses, including Dixon’s half-brother, Leonard Brown, said the gunman was 19-year-old Lamarr Scott.

Three days later, a Buffalo television station reported that someone else had confessed on videotape to being the gunman. The station did not identify him, but police quickly learned the man was Scott. At the time, police believed that Dixon was a drug dealer and that Scott worked as his bodyguard. Detectives interviewed Scott, who said that he shot the Jackson brothers after they began shooting at his friend Jarmon. Scott offered to take a polygraph test. That offer was rejected and police discounted Scott’s confession.

Witnesses described the gunman as six feet tall and more than 170 pounds (some said the gunman was heavy-set). Scott was just over six feet tall and about 200 pounds. Dixon was 5 feet, 7 inches tall and about 130 pounds.

Police interviewed Heather Smith, who said that she was a close friend of Aaron Jackson. Asked about Dixon, Smith said, “I never heard of him.”

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office presented evidence to a grand jury. Among the witnesses called were Scott, Jarmon, and Brown. Scott recanted his earlier confession and implicated Dixon as the gunman. Brown and Jarmon, however, told the grand jury that Scott was the gunman.

As a result, Jarmon and Brown were charged with perjury.

In August 1991, Dixon was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison for the two shootings to which he previously pled guilty.

Dixon went to trial in June 1992 in Erie County Supreme Court. The prosecution’s evidence consisted largely of the testimony of Sullivan, Aaron Jackson, and Adams—all of whom identified Dixon as the gunman—although the physical descriptions they gave right after the shooting fit Scott, not Dixon.

Sullivan, who was facing a rape charge at the time of the trial, admitted that he was a friend of Torriano Jackson and that the shooting occurred after he had spent the day drinking beer, snorting cocaine, and smoking marijuana. He estimated that he was 100 to 150 yards away when he saw Dixon firing his weapon.

Adams testified he saw two people walking toward the brawl involving the Jackson brothers and Jarmon. He said Dixon was the shooter, although he admitted that at the time, he said the gunman was “heavyset” and that Dixon was not heavyset.

Aaron Jackson testified that just before the shots were fired, he and Torriano had Jarmon on the pavement and were beating him. He first told police that he didn’t know who the gunman was. When he was shown a photographic array that included Dixon, he said he couldn’t be sure if Dixon was the gunman because “it happened so fast.” At the trial, however, Jackson identified Dixon as the gunman. Confronted with his prior statements, he said, “My memory gets better with time.”

On June 12, 1992, the jury convicted Dixon of second-degree murder, attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to 38 1/3 years to life in prison.

Later that year, Jarmon and Brown were convicted of perjury. Jarmon was sentenced to 2½ to seven years in prison. Brown was sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison.

In April 1995, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld Dixon’s convictions on appeal.

In 2003, Dixon moved for new trial. The motion said that Adams had recanted his identification of Dixon as the gunman, saying the police threatened to charge him with perjury unless he falsely identified Dixon. The motion also cited Scott’s admission that he was the gunman as well as the testimony of Michael Bland, who initially told police he didn’t see who had the gun, but now claimed it was Scott.

The motion said three other witnesses had been located who identified Scott as the gunman. One of those witnesses said that after the shooting, Scott came to her home to hide and admitted that he was the gunman.

In July 2004, the Buffalo News published an in-depth investigation of the case. Scott confessed to the newspaper that he was the gunman. Scott said that he and Dixon had driven to Jarmon’s home and they walked to the intersection to hang out. When they saw the fight between the Jacksons and Jarmon, Scott said he went back to Jarmon’s home, retrieved the TEC-9, and came back. He said he got the gun for self-defense and that Torriano Jackson opened fire at him, so he shot back.

“I shot back in self-defense, yes,” Scott told the newspaper. “After that, I ran down the street, and I threw the gun. I went home. That was it….Because (Torriano Jackson)…opened fire on us, I emptied the clip.” Scott was in prison by then. In November 1993, he had robbed a group of teenagers and shot one in the face, leaving him a quadriplegic. Scott was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison.

A month later, in August 2004, Dixon’s motion for a new trial was denied. He was denied permission to appeal.

In September 2004, after Dixon’s family gathered more than 800 signatures on a petition asking for a new trial, Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said his office would review the case to determine if a miscarriage of justice had occurred. Nothing came of the review.

In 2005, Dixon filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. More witnesses had come forward saying either that Scott was the gunman or that Dixon was not the gunman. The results of two polygraph examinations also were filed. The examiner said Dixon was truthful when he denied being the gunman or telling Scott to falsely confess to the shooting. Antoine Shannon, Dixon’s half-brother, was found to be truthful when he said Scott was the gunman.

The petition was denied in 2009.

In July 2012, Golf Digest magazine published an article that showcased Dixon’s pastel pencil sketches of golf courses. Dixon, who had dropped out of Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts to pursue drug dealing, said he had never played a round of golf, but hoped one day to do so.

In 2017, Dixon applied for a gubernatorial pardon, but no action was ever taken on the request.

In May 2018, Dixon’s attorney, Donald Thompson, filed another post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. By that time, Dixon was the subject of two investigative reports that asserted he was innocent. The Golf Channel had followed up the Golf Digest article with a program highlighting the statements of witnesses who said that Scott was the gunman. In addition, students from Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, under the direction of Professor Marc Howard and Adjunct Lecturer Martin Tankleff, who was exonerated in 2008 of a murder he did not commit, reinvestigated Dixon’s case and created a video documentary containing interviews with more witnesses who said Dixon was not the gunman. During an interview for the video, the trial prosecutor, Christopher Belling, said that Dixon's clothing had been tested for gunshot residue and was negative. That information had not been disclosed to Dixon's defense at the time of his trial.

Not long after, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn agreed that the office’s conviction integrity unit would review the case. After interviewing 30 witnesses, including 12 who either identified Scott as the gunman or said Dixon was not the gunman, as well as Scott, who continued to assert he was the gunman, the prosecution agreed that Dixon’s conviction should be vacated.

In announcing his decision, Flynn maintained that he could find no evidence to support Belling's statement that a gunshot residue test had been performed. He also declared, “Mr. Dixon is innocent of shooting and of murder, for what he was found guilty of, but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight.”

On September 19, 2018, Scott pled guilty to manslaughter in return for a sentence that would run concurrently with the 25 to 50 year sentence he was serving. That same day, Dixon’s convictions for second-degree murder, attempted murder, and assault were vacated and the prosecution dismissed the charges. The conviction for criminal possession of a weapon remained intact because the TEC-9 that Scott said he used in the shooting belonged to Dixon.

Dixon was then released from prison more than 27 years after his arrest in 1991.

In December 2019, Valentino filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for New York's Western District against the City of Buffalo, several members of its police force, Erie County, and Belling. The lawsuit claimed multiple acts of misconduct by Belling. The lawsuit said Belling "coerced witnesses into fabricated statements, ignored and suborned police misconduct, including perjury, suppressed exculpatory evidence, including gunshot residue evidence, and threatened exculpatory witnesses into either false recantations or silence.

In September 2020, Dixon filed a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims. The claim was dismissed in 2021 and upheld on appeal.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/24/2018
Last Updated: 10/11/2023
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Assault
Reported Crime Date:1991
Sentence:38 1/3 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No