Buffalo Bills’ RB Taiwan Jones gifts playoff tickets to man wrongfully jailed for 27 years

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years for murder never got to see his beloved Buffalo Bills play in an NFL playoff game at home. On Saturday, he will have his chance, thanks to Bills running back Taiwan Jones.

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Jones gifted a pair of tickets to Valentino Dixon so the artist could watch the Bills (13-3), the AFC’s No. 2 seed, host the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) in a wild-card game Saturday, ESPN reported.

Dixon, 51, was exonerated and released after serving 27 years at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. Dixon was released from prison in September 2018. He had been found guilty in connection with the 1991 murder of Torriano Jackson, 17, in Buffalo. But that conviction was set aside after an Erie County judge accepted a guilty plea from Lamarr Scott, who had originally confessed to the murder two days after it occurred, according to The Associated Press.

Despite a lack of evidence, Dixon was convicted and sentenced to 38 1/2 years in prison.

A group of undergraduate students at Georgetown University made a documentary about Dixon’s conviction and imprisonment, which eventually led to his exoneration, ESPN reported.

Because of his jail sentence, Dixon, a Buffalo native, missed all of the Bills’ home games during the team’s four consecutive runs to the Super Bowl during the 1990s. He also missed the Bills’ last home playoff game in 1996.

Saturday will be Dixon’s second Bills game, ESPN reported. He saw his first game, a preseason contest, when he was 11.

Jones said he first became aware of Dixon’s story at the beginning of the 2020 season, according to the sports network.

“I was already kind of emotional just with everything going on in the world,” Jones told ESPN. “I was reaching out to different organizations within Buffalo to see what I could do to make a difference. When I first read his story, man, it was touching and heartbreaking. I definitely wanted to do something for him.”

Jones, 32, said he was “blown away” that Dixon, who had every reason to be angry, was instead adjusting well to life after prison.

“When he called, it was like talking to an old friend. Our conversation was real genuine,” Jones told ESPN. “I think what stood out the most was that he didn’t have any grudge in him. He sounded like he was just real happy with where his life is today. I was just so amazed at where he’s at emotionally and mentally.”

Dixon told ESPN he “refused” to be broken while in prison.

“I had to stay that way -- I mean, I was born that way,” Dixon said. “Prison was designed to break my spirit, and I refused to allow that to happen. I was the one who encouraged everyone else to keep hanging in there.”

While incarcerated, Dixon created thousands of drawings of golf courses even though he had never played the game, ESPN reported.

According to Golfweek, Dixon has been commissioned to draw before and after pictures of a Jack Nicklaus-designed course of which construction is scheduled for May. Last month, Dixon’s work caught the eye of former first lady Michelle Obama, who bought a 20-inch by 30-inch painting of a golf course as a Christmas present for her husband, former President Barack Obama, WGRZ reported.

“She’s not too big to reach out to somebody on my level, who is really nobody in comparison, so that’s just a great feeling,” Dixon told the television station.

“It doesn’t get any better,” Dixon told WKBW. “(Michelle Obama) saw my story on HBO and (her team) reached out to buy” the drawing.

Dixon said he was excited to watch the Bills, especially since only 6,772 fans will be allowed in the 71,000-seat stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Anything is better than a 6-by-8 cell,” Dixon told ESPN.


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