Valentino Dixon has spent the past 26 years of his life fighting his wrongful conviction. That’s a quarter of a century. A lot can happen in the world in a quarter century. Birth and death, growing up, growing older, watching your children grow up, and have children of their own can happen. All of these things have happened to Valentino Dixon while he has remained locked away for the 1991 murder of 17 year old Torriano Jackson. Convicted at age 21, barely more than a kid himself, Valentino Dixon is now a grandfather.
Thousands of men and women in the criminal justice system go in young and become grandparents while incarcerated. That, in and of itself, is nothing unique. What makes this case different? What sets Valentino Dixon apart? A confession, on tape with a local news station, by LaMarr Scott, then 18 years old. Scott confessed to the shooting, saying it was in self defense. Unfortunately, it was uncontrolled self defense with a Tec-9. He didn’t mean to kill anyone, but he reacted in fear for his life, and the result was injury and death.
The problem was that the police didn’t believe him. They also didn’t believe the other two witnesses that corroborated Scott’s version of events. For the three people that said Valentino Dixon was innocent, they had three that claimed he wasn’t. They had circumstantial evidence. And perhaps most damning, they had Valentino Dixon’s past history to bolster their case. Valentino Dixon was a drug dealer, out on bail on the night of the homicide, charged in two drug-related shootings. To investigators, it seemed obvious that Scott was willing to take the fall for Dixon’s crime. It sounded reasonable, as long as you didn’t think about the other charges Dixon already faced.
LaMarr Scott confessing to this particular shooting was not going to get Valentino Dixon out from under the unrelated charges he was already facing. According to prosecutor Christopher J. Belling, Scott was approached by Dixon’s family, asking that he take the fall for this, as he could claim youthful offender status. In theory, if Scott did this, he would be out of prison quickly, whereas Valentino Dixon would be locked up for a long stretch since he was an adult. This was flatly denied by members of Dixon’s family. While this does seem reasonable on the surface, again, it fails to hold water in light of the unrelated charges Dixon was already facing.
Then there are the claims that the witnesses for Dixon were threatened with perjury charges and worse if they didn’t testify that Dixon was the shooter. Two witnesses maintained that LaMarr Scott was the shooter, and only Scott himself recanted. Scott claims that he was threatened specifically by both Belling and Detective Mark Stambach to testify at the Grand Jury that Valentino Dixon was the shooter. Ask yourself, “What could be worse than confessing to a murder?” According to Scott, his life was threatened if he didn’t change his testimony. It seems reasonable that an 18 year old kid, already scared and a little freaked out, would be easily convinced that there is a fate worse than prison.
Rounding out the wrongful conviction super-storm is the fact that Valentino Dixon’s defense attorney didn’t put on much of a defense. According to interviews conducted in “Making and Exoneree” not only did defense attorney Joseph Terranova not call any witnesses, but he also spent part of the trial asleep at the defense table. Not just mentally asleep, literally asleep. In a case with this many twists and turns, asleep is the very last thing a defense lawyer needs to be. Valentino Dixon never stood a chance against the tidal wave mounting against him.
Today, as Valentino Dixon fights to overturn his conviction, we are digging into his case to see just how the justice system failed him. Everything in this case is suspect, from the allegations of Dixon family pressure to the eyewitness testimony that identified Valentino Dixon from 100-150 yards away. That’s a football field and a half. From the uncertainty of identity to the utter conviction that Dixon was the shooter, simply because one witness’ memory “improves with time”, this case begs to be re-examined. Follow along with us as we do just that over the coming weeks. Learn about the key players, where they are now, and how this has evolved over 26 years. This is not a straight path to exoneration. Valentino Dixon and his legal team, have to unravel a Gordian knot of information, misinformation, and 26 years of fading memories to win an exoneration. Join us as we bear witness to this fight.