Investigation Discovery’s ‘What Happened to Valentino Dixon?’ chronicles how Valentino Dixon was 21 when he was wrongfully convicted for a murder he did not commit and was sentenced to more than three decades in prison. The incident happened in August 1991 in Buffalo, New York, and he was arrested hours later. The episode showed the gross miscarriage of justice and how Valentino still turned his life around despite that. So, who is Valentino, and what is his story? Let’s find out.
What Happened To Valentino Dixon?
Born October 20, 1969, Valentino Dixon grew up on the Eastside of Buffalo, New York. As an only child, Valentino was a gifted artist who loved to draw. He attended Buffalo Academy for Visual Performing Arts. However, the aspiring artist’s nightmare started at about 1:00 AM on August 10, 1991, when a fistfight broke out at the intersection of East Delevan and Bailey Avenues near Louie’s Texas Red Hots in Buffalo, New York. Around 100 people were hanging out at the place when the fight started.
Torriano Jackson, then 17, and his brother, Aaron Jackson, then 20, were beating Mario Jarmon, then 19, when an individual from the crowd warned everyone about a firearm. As the panicked gathering scattered, more than two dozen gunshots rang out. After a while, some returned and found Torriano fatally shot while Aaron and Mario lay wounded. Police sources state a bystander, John Sullivan, then 17, also suffered a non-critical injury when a bullet grazed his leg.
After the police arrived, they found 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. Within hours, law enforcement officials received an anonymous tip that the shooting was the culmination of a feud over a girl, Heather Smith, who had dated one of the Jackson brothers and Valentino, then 21. The authorities arrested Valentino from Mario’s house, a couple of blocks away from the shooting.
After John, Aaron, and Emile Adams identified Valentino in photographic lineups, the police charged him with Torriano’s murder, Aaron’s attempted murder, assaulting John, and criminal possession of a weapon. Court records state Valentino then 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. He pled guilty to them and was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison in August 1991.
Three days after the shooting, a Buffalo television station reported that someone else had confessed on videotape to being the gunman. Two other witnesses, including Valentino’s half-brother, Leonard Brown, said the shooter was Lamarr Scott, then 19. He claimed he shot the Jackson brothers after they began shooting at his friend, Mario. Even though Lamarr reportedly confessed to the authorities and offered to take a polygraph test, the police rejected it and discounted his confession.
The detectives also interviewed Heather, who claimed she was a close friend of Aaron and refused to know Valentino at all. He went to trial for the murder in June 1992 and was convicted on all charges based on Aaron and Emile’s dubious testimony. He was sentenced to 38 1/3 years to life. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld his conviction in April 1995. Valentino moved for a new trial in 2003, with the media publishing an in-depth investigation of the case in July 2004.
Where is Valentino Dixon Now?
Lamarr was serving prison after being convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison for a November 1993 incident. He confessed to the Buffalo News that he and Valentino had driven to Mario’s home and was hanging out at the intersection. After a fight broke out between Mario and the Jackson brothers, Lamarr stated he went to Mario’s house, retrieved the TEC-9, and shot back at Torriano after the victim allegedly opened fire on him.
However, Valentino’s motion was denied in September 2004, despite his family gathering more than 800 signatures on a petition asking for a new trial. He filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2005, with more witnesses coming forward and identifying Lamarr as the shooter. Valentino’s defense counsel even submitted polygraph tests that showed Lamarr and Antoine Shannon, Valentino’s half-brother, were truthful regarding their statements to the police. However, the petition was denied in 2009.
While in prison, Valentino drew several pastel pencil sketches of golf courses, which were published in a Golf Digest magazine article in July 2012. He applied for a gubernatorial pardon in 2017, but no action was ever taken on the request. His attorney filed another post-conviction petition seeking a new trial in May 2018. By that time, Valentino was the subject of two investigative reports that asserted he was innocent. Eventually, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn agreed that the office’s conviction integrity unit would review the case.
After interviewing 30 witnesses, the prosecution agreed that his conviction should be vacated. John Flynn stated, “Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of murder, for what he was found guilty of, but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight.” Lamarr pled guilty to manslaughter in Torriano’s death on September 19, 2018. That same day, Valentino’s convictions for second-degree murder, attempted murder, and assault were vacated, and the prosecution dismissed the charges.
The 48-year-old was released from prison in late 2018, more than 27 years after his arrest in 1991 and serving the bulk of his sentence in the infamous Attica Correctional Facility. Valentino filed a lawsuit in US District Court for New York’s Western District against the City of Buffalo and law enforcement officials in December 2019. He also filed a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims in September 2020, which was dismissed in 2021. As a free man, Valentino continues to draw.
According to reports, he has sold art to some of the most famous people on the planet, including Michelle Obama. He has been nominated for three Emmys and has written and published his book, “The Soul of An Unfreed Man.” He has received a gold medal from the Vatican for his peaceful spirit and challenging journey. In an interview, Valentino said, “The guys can’t understand. They always say I don’t need to be drawing this golf stuff. I know it makes no sense, but for some reason, my spirit is attuned to this game.”
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