Dixon Exonerated, Released After Nearly 30 Years in Prison

Cleared in 1991 murder, but weapon possession conviction stands

Mike Baggerman
September 19, 2018 - 4:24 pm
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By: Mike Baggerman & Dana Casullo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - After serving 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, Valentino Dixon is now a free man.

Dixon, 48, was convicted in 1992 of second degree murder after the August 10, 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson near Louie's Hot Dog Restaurant on the corner of Bailey and East Delavan Avenues in the City of Buffalo. Dixon insisted over the years that he was never the man who killed Jackson and also injured Jason's brother, Aaron, and bystander John Sullivan. 

Lamarr Scott told WGRZ-TV in 1991 confessed to the murders in the days following the shooting and even wrote letters to police and the district attorney's office admitting to it. However, Scott recanted his statement at the grand jury proceeding, citing threats from prosecutors.

No evidence directly tied Dixon to the murders, though Erie County District Attorney John Flynn insisted that Dixon is not an innocent man because he brought the uzi used in the killing. 

"If Mr. Dixon has told the truth about what happened 27 years ago, we wouldn't be here today, probably," Flynn said. "Mr. Dixon insisted all along that (he) was in the store the whole time...buying a beer, (he) wasn't outside. (He) had nothing to do with nothing. If Mr. Dixon would have said 27 years ago 'Alright, I didn't do the shooting here but Lamarr Scott did the shooting and I brought the gun and Lamarr Scott used my gun for the shooting'...we wouldn't be here today."

Despite his exoneration on the murder, attempted murder, and assault charge, his conviction on criminal possession of a weapon was upheld. However, the maximum penalty for a weapon's charge is 20 years, meaning he would have been released in 2011 instead of on Wednesday. 

In the courtroom on Wednesday, Lamarr Scott first admitted to the killing and returned to prison, though Flynn said he is currently eligible for parole. About 30 minutes after the conclusion of Scott's conviction, Dixon entered and was exonerated to a chorus of cheers from his family and friends in the gallery.

Dixon's daughter, Valentina, was four months old when he went to prison. She's now 27. 

"It's going to give us the opportunity to have a new life," Valentina Dixon said while holding her son, Levi. "It's different. It's not the same as being in prison. We're definitely going to go shopping and explore life. I can't wait to get him a cell phone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Barbara Dixon, Valentino's mother, was initially speechless when asked for her reaction to Valentino's exoneration but said her faith is what kept Valentino motivated. 

"Finally, this community knows justice has been served," Betty Jean Grant, a former county legislator and family friend, told reporters. "It takes a man (Scott) - I know what he did was absolutely horrible - but he could have kept quiet and let an innocent man die in prison, but he did not. Justice was served in two cases."

Around 1:30 p.m., Valentino Dixon exited the county courthouse on Franklin Street in Buffalo to a chorus of cheers from his loved ones. He embraced his mother first, followed by his daughter, then others. 

"The fight doesn't stop now," Dixon said outside the courthouse. "I have a bigger fight and the fight is to help those in New York State (because it) has the worst sentencing laws in the country. I'm going to be fighting to help those locked up who should be out. The prison rhetoric with mass incarcerations needs to stop. We need to come up with a solution on how to render justice for those that are poor. If you don't have any money in the system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped to give a poor person a fair trial. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

While in prison, Dixon studied law and spent upwards of ten hours per day painting. He was featured in golf publications like Golf Digest and even the Golf Channel. Documentary crews from the Golf Channel were on hand to witness his exoneration.

"I'm going to continue the artwork," he said. "I'm eager to get back. My mother bought me a big easel. I'm used to drawing on a small board and she bought me a big one. I can't wait to use it."

The family said the first thing that he would do is go to Red Lobster for his first meal as a free man, followed by a visit to the mosque. 

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