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Editorial: Dixon case demands skeptical review

We don’t know if Valentino Dixon is innocent of the crime for which he has spent the last 26 years in prison. But here’s what we do know:

  • Dixon says he didn’t murder 17-year-old Torriano Jackson. Not surprising, perhaps, but there’s more.
  • He says prosecutors withheld evidence showing that no gun residue was found on his clothes or in his car.
  • Another man, Lamarr Scott, has repeatedly said that he committed the crime.
  • A private investigator from Syracuse, Malcolm Plumber, believes Dixon and is working on his case pro bono.
  • Anthony Cardinale, a former Buffalo News reporter who covered the 1992 trial, says he believes Dixon didn’t get the fair trial to which he was entitled. The reason: prosecutors threatened six alibi witnesses with prosecution for perjury. None took the stand.
  • More generally, official misconduct – by police, prosecutors or both – factored into more than half of the 139 exonerations reported last year, according to statistics released by the National Registry of Exonerations. Those 84 cases of official misconduct were the largest number on record; half the cases were homicides.

None of that proves that Dixon is innocent, of course, much less that official misconduct drove his conviction. Together, though, they demand that the judicial system takes the matter with the crushing seriousness demanded by a plausible suggestion of wrongful conviction.

Erie County residents know something about wrongful conviction – that it happens and that the price for it can be paid by other innocents. Anthony Capozzi of Buffalo served almost 22 years in prison for rapes he did not commit. While he was in prison, the actual rapist, Altemio Sanchez, graduated to murder, becoming known as the Bike Path Killer. He was exonerated in 2007. Had the system gotten it right the first time, women who were later murdered would still alive.

Lynn DeJac – later Lynn DeJac Peters – spent more than 13 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murdering her daughter, 13-year-old Crystallyn Girard. She was exonerated when DNA evidence on the girl’s body was determined to be from DeJac’s boyfriend at the time, Dennis Donohue. After DeJac was exonerated, Donohue was convicted of murdering Joan Giambra in 1993, only seven months after the death of Crystallyn.

DeJac, who was released from prison in 2007 and exonerated in 2008, died of cancer in 2014.

Is Dixon yet another Buffalonian wrongfully convicted of murder? We don’t know, but it is incumbent on courts and prosecutors to look fearlessly into the matter, because while Dixon continues to serve his 38-year sentence in the Wende Correctional Facility, there are reasons to worry that he doesn’t belong there.

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