|The Buffalo News
1991 SLAYING STILL RAISES QUESTIONS
TWO MEN SIT IN PRISON: ONE CONVICTED OF A MURDER HE DENIES, THE OTHER CLAIMING TO BE THE KILLER
Date: Sunday, July 4, 2004
By Anthony Cardinale - NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Torriano Jackson died in a hail of gunfire from a machine gun.
Machine-gun fire hit four young men at the corner of Bailey and East Delavan avenues one August night in 1991. One died, and three were wounded.
Today, two men sit in prison: one convicted of that killing but denying his guilt, the other insisting he is the killer. The crime was brutal. After opening fire on the four men, the shooter stood over 17-year-old Torriano Jackson and emptied a Tech-9 machine gun into the teenager's body before fleeing into the darkness.
Hours after the rampage in the parking lot outside Louie's Texas Red Hots, police arrested Valentino Dixon, then 21, of Rounds Avenue.
Dixon was convicted and sentenced to 39 years to life in prison.
Two days after the shooting, another man, Lamarr Scott, then 18, of Best Street, confessed to killing Jackson, although he later recanted.
Today, Scott says again he was the shooter.
Police didn't believe Scott's first confession, and they don't believe his recent one to The Buffalo News.
"He's one of Dixon's boys," says Christopher J. Belling, who prosecuted the case. He insists that Scott -- serving up to 50 years in prison for an unrelated shooting -- is still trying to cover up for his friend, Dixon.
But 13 years later, what happened that night remains difficult to piece
together, because none of the people involved was without fault. Among them are liars, drug users, drug dealers, alcoholics; nearly all had access to guns. Still, several people who were there that night say that Dixon is serving time for a murder he didn't commit.
The key players Jackson had been flipping hamburgers that summer at a Metro station Burger King. A basketball player at Bennett High School, he looked forward to the Buffalo Board of Education publishing one of his poems.
Dixon had been an art major at Buffalo Academy for the Visual & Performing Arts and worked for a while at his father's boutique. But at 21, Dixon was a mid-level drug dealer. On the night of the shooting, he was out on bail, awaiting sentencing for two drug-related shootings.
Scott was a friend -- and possibly a drug associate -- of Dixon and had a relatively minor criminal record. Both his parents died from drug abuse, and Scott was raised first by his grandmother and then by adoptive parents.
At 6 foot 2 and about 200 pounds, Scott was larger than Dixon, who was 5 foot 7 and about 130 pounds.
The murder On Aug. 10, two weeks after an argument over a girl, Torriano Jackson's older brother, Aaron, 20, exchanged words with Dixon's half brothers, Antoine Shannon and Leonard L. Brown, and cousin Mario Jarmon at the corner of Delavan and Bailey and then drove home to get his younger brother, Torriano.
Shannon, Jarmon and Brown were a few houses down Delavan and spotted the Jacksons driving back toward Bailey. They called Dixon, who arrived at the house. His friend, Scott, also showed up.
Dixon, Scott and Jarmon walked to the corner. The Jacksons and Jarmon exchanged words, and a fistfight erupted.
Aaron Jackson later testified what he saw and heard in the middle of the fight.
"Constant, constant shots -- multiple pow, pow, pow," Aaron recounted during Dixon's trial. "I felt shells all over my body, and I hit my brother's hand, and I said, 'Torry, get out of here! Torry, run!' "
When police arrived, Aaron Jackson and John A. Sullivan III, 17, of Elmer Avenue -- a friend of the Jackson brothers who had tried to break up the fistfight -- were wounded, as was Jarmon. Torriano Jackson was near death.
Police interviewed witnesses at the scene and in the hospital. Eventually, three identified Dixon as the killer.
Police found a .32 caliber handgun at the scene with one spent shell but never determined who owned the gun. They never found the Tech-9 machine gun.
They also found an abandoned red 1990 Geo Tracker that had been struck by gunfire.
The Jacksons' distraught parents told police Dixon had been stalking their sons for days because of the incident over the girl two weeks earlier.
At about 2 p.m. that Saturday afternoon, police arrested Dixon while he sat in his car, parked on East Delavan.
Scott returned to Bailey Avenue on Monday, Aug. 12, and confessed before a WGRZ-TV television camera that he was the shooter.
Police immediately took him in for questioning. Scott told Detective Mark Stambach that when he realized there could be trouble that night, he went home and got a machine gun to protect his friends. But he said Torriano Jackson fired the first shot, possibly with the handgun police found at the scene.
"They jumped out of a yellow Dodge Shadow and opened fire on me and my friends," Scott said. "I shot back in self-defense, yes. After that I ran down the street, and I threw the gun. I went home. That was it."
"Who shot and killed Torriano Jackson?"
"Why did you shoot Torriano Jackson?"
"Because he came back and opened fire on us. I emptied the clip."
Belling suspected Dixon's family orchestrated three statements given to police.
"What (Scott) told us later on in the investigation," Belling says, "was the Dixon family came to him and said, 'Look, Valentino is older (21) – not eligible for YO (youthful offender status). You're YO eligible (at age 18).
You'll be out in no time, and Valentino would be in for a long time.' "
The Dixon family denies saying this, or in any way telling the three to lie to police. But they do acknowledge that Scott came to their house, and the three were given a ride downtown to police headquarters.
The grand jury
Aaron Jackson, John Sullivan and Emil Adams -- all part of the Jackson group testified before the grand jury that Dixon killed Jackson.
But Leonard Brown and Mario Jarmon -- who were with Dixon -- told the grand jury that Scott was the shooter.
In an about-face, Scott also testified that Dixon was the killer.
Dixon was indicted, and Brown and Jarmon were charged with perjury.
Scott says he, too, was threatened with perjury before talking to the grand jury.
Belling "advised me that it was in my best interest to testify at the grand jury and say that Valentino Dixon committed the crime," Scott said. He added that Stambach "repeatedly made threats on my life if I didn't come to the grand jury and testify."
Belling and Stambach deny this. Stambach declined an interview.
In his opening statement at Dixon's trial in June 1992, Belling laid out the prosecution's theory of what happened:
"An altercation started between Torriano Jackson, Aaron Jackson and Mario Jarmon. Mario Jarmon was losing the fight. As the fight spilled into the street, the defendant (Dixon) allegedly ran into the fray with a machine gun to protect his friend Mario Jarmon."
Belling brought to the stand three eyewitnesses who said Dixon was the
killer: Aaron Jackson, the victim's brother -- who was seriously wounded by the gunfire -- identified Dixon as the killer from a photo lineup while in the hospital.
Adams, a friend of the Jacksons said he saw Dixon firing the machine gun.
Sullivan, another friend of the Jacksons wounded that night, said he
recognized Dixon as the killer from an estimated 100 to 150 yards away in the night.
Defense lawyer Joseph J. Terranova didn't call any witnesses.
Of the three witnesses he had hoped to call, he said, Scott had recanted his confession, and Brown and Jarmon had been charged with perjury.
"The witnesses that we had left were not that strong," he said. "If I'd called one or two weak witnesses, the jurors might have asked themselves: 'Is that all the defense had to offer? . . . He must have done it.' "
Instead, Terranova attempted to discredit the prosecutor's witnesses. Under his cross-examination, Sullivan admitted he had been smoking marijuana and crack the afternoon of the shooting and then drank two 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor before witnessing the violence. The jury convicted Dixon of murder, attempted murder, assault and weapons charges, and Judge Michael L. D'Amico sentenced him to prison on Aug. 7, 1992. Dixon's earliest parole date is 2030, when he will be 60.
||Truth in Justice