New York man’s drawings of golf courses help clear him of murder conviction 27 years later
Golf Digest magazine brings light to the inconsistencies in Valentino Dixon's case
A judge in Buffalo, New York, where 48-year-old Valentino Dixon spent 27 years behind the bars of the Attica prison, vacated his conviction for the 1991 shooting death of Torriano Jackson.
It was all made possible by Dixon turning to drawings of golf courses, which eventually caught the eye of Golf Digest magazine who then shed light on inconsistencies in his case. Law students and prison reform advocates took it from there.
Dixon, who had maintained his innocence throughout his trial and time incarcerated, later walked out of the courthouse and was hugged by jubilant relatives including his mother and daughter, saying "I love ya'll...It feels great.”
Another man, called Lamarr Scott, admitted to getting the weapon from Dixon earlier that day but that he himself killed Mr Jackson. Shockingly, Scott had made the claim to local media in the days following the murder, but formally did so in a courtroom just ahead of Dixon's release. He is currently in prison serving a 25-year sentence for an unrelated crime.
Judge Susan Eagan said she would let the weapons possession charge against Dixon stand, but that only carried a sentence of 15 years which meant he was free to go home. The courtroom erupted in applause.
Dixon immediately spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse about the unfairness of the American justice system and "mass incarceration" of poor people who do not have the means to afford better legal counsel.
"Prison rhetoric with the mass incarceration needs to stop. We need to come up with a solution on how to...render justice for those that [are] poor because if you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice. The system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," Dixon said.
Following his release, he told the local NBC News affiliate "quality time" with his family would be his main focus as well as reforming the criminal justice system.
Ever since childhood, Dixon had a talent for drawing. He began creating landscapes with coloured pencils and one day the prison warden had given him a picture of the 12th hole at the Augusta National Golf course in Georgia where the famed Masters event is played each year.
After drawing the rolling hills, peaceful and open greens, and players motions, Dixon became hooked on depicting other golf courses as well.
He added in a profile Golf Digest had done on him in 2012: "Something about the grass and sky was rejuvenating".
Max Adler wrote in the magazine: "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".
He added: “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.”
The article and a few others on Dixon caught the attention of students at Georgetown University's law school in Washington DC who work for the Prisons and Justice Initiative.
They took up Dixon's case and brought it back up for review by the courts over several inconsistencies including the investigating detective on the case not testifying in court, Scott's public confession to the crime not being taken into account, Dixon's trial lawyer at the time not calling on several eyewitnesses who could testify Dixon was not at murder scene, and that the prosecution had failed to tell Dixon's lawyer the gunpowder tests on his clients clothes had come back negative.
Donald Thompson, one of Dixon’s lawyers who facilitated his release, said: “Once a case crosses a certain threshold of media attention, it matters, even though it shouldn’t. It’s embarrassing for the legal system that for a long time the best presentation of the investigation was from a golf magazine.”