Valentino Dixon speaking publicly for first time as a free man, since 1991. He was wrongfully convicted of a murder and exonerated this morning. pic.twitter.com/HrARq2A8T9— WBEN NewsRadio 930AM (@NewsRadio930) September 19, 2018
A 48-year-old African-American prisoner in upstate New York convicted of murder walked free from the court recently after staying behind bars for 27 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
So, how after almost three decades, Valentino Dixon who was handed a minimum 38-year-to-life sentence, got a major stroke of luck?
Through his love for art, it appears.
Dixon’s extraordinary talent for drawing golf courses reportedly caught the eye of a prison warden, setting in motion a remarkable series of events that ended in his release.
Since the beginning of his sentence, Dixon maintained his innocence for the 1991 shooting of a 17-year-old in Buffalo, New York. Dixon claimed he was at the crime scene but at the nearby shop buying beer.
What’s even more unusual is the real culprit, Lamar Scott, within two days of the killing of Torriano Jackson in a car park, told local media that he was responsible.
“I don't want my friend [Dixon] to take the rap for something that I did,” Lamarr Scott told a WGRZ-TV reporter.
But he was never arrested.
Clearly, the odds were against Dixon as multiple witnesses couldn’t testify for him because, apparently,several had already been accused of perjury. Moreover, to makes matters worse, the lead investigator in the casedid not testify during the trial either.
Once in the prison, Dixon didn’t dwell over his misfortune for long and found solace in his childhood love for drawing.
Initially, he just picked up the pencils sent to him by his uncle and started to draw in his maximum security cell. At first, he just drew animals, trees, people and the usual.
But, later, things took an unexpected turn when correctional authorities noticed Dixon’s artistic flair and gave him a picture of the 12th hole at the Augusta National, home of the Masters, and asked him to draw it.
Being a man who grew up in a part of town where American football and basketball were the only sport, the task of drawing a golf course was pretty unusual for Dixon. But with not much else to do, Dixon gave it a go, probably not even realizing that this particular drawing would give him his rightfully deserved freedom.
"After 19 years in Attica Correctional Facility, the look of a golf hole spoke to me," said Dixon. “It seemed peaceful. I imagine playing it would be a lot like fishing."
"I didn't know anything about golf. I'm from the 'hood," he told local media.
In 2012, Dixon’s sketches caught the eye of the editors of Golf Digest which then featured his artwork and his profile in the magazine.
"Maybe one day I'll get to play the game I've only imagined," Dixon said in the article, describing how he drew landscapes he had never seen.
At the same time, the monthly magazine began digging into his conviction.
Max Adler, a staff writer, spent five months looking into Dixon’s case, read trial transcripts, interviewed attorneys, witnesses and more.
“It took about a hundred drawings before Golf Digest noticed, but when we did, we also noticed his conviction seemed flimsy. So we investigated the case and raised the question of his innocence,”said Adler.
“The case is complicated, but on the surface it involves shoddy police work, zero physical evidence linking Dixon, conflicting testimony of unreliable witnesses. . . All together, a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man,” he added.
The articles also grabbed the attention of Georgetown University students who then ended up making a stunning discovery about the case: Government lawyers reportedly failed to tell Dixon's defense attorney that a gunpowder test on his client's clothes had come back negative.
Some additional investigation led the authorities to acknowledge they have made a grave mistake and Dixon wasn’t responsible for the murder that took places years ago.
Subsequently, the case recently returned to the Erie County Courthouse for Scott’s confession to be finally heard.
“I grabbed the gun,” he said, according to the Buffalo News. “I pulled the trigger and all the bullets came out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying.”
The prosecutors claimed Scott had been admitting his guilt in the case for a long time.
"Mr Scott has been confessing to this crime since 12 August 1991," Assistant District Attorney Sara Dee told the court. “He has confessed to this crime in excess of 10 times."
An hour after Scott’s confession, Dixon was told he would be freed.
“I love y’all,” Dixon shouted after walking out to freedom and getting greeted by sunshine, chirping birds, his mom, daughter and other loved ones. “It feels great.”
Today was a historic day when 3 undergraduate students @guprisonjustice helped exonerate #ValentinoDixon. They were led in their class by @marcmhoward & @xoner8ed. The lawyers were #DonThompson & #AlanRosenthal. Justice was achieved as a team. Thank you @DAErieCountyNY. pic.twitter.com/VkHzkPa5X7— Marty Tankleff (@xoner8ed) September 20, 2018
“Lesser men would’ve broken,” wrote Golf Digest. “With his mind and body intact, Dixon hopefully has some good years ahead. Maybe he’ll even take up golf.”
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