Valentino Dixon poses with golf art, he created in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility.
A prisoner who took the golf world by storm by the lush drawings of courses and holes, laboriously developed during his days behind bars in one of New York’s most notorious prisons, is enjoying his first full day as a free man Thursday after his hobby helped a decades-old murder conviction overturned.
Valentino Dixon, 48, walked out of the Erie County Court building in Buffalo on Wednesday afternoon after a judge of the acceptance of a guilty plea of another man in the 1991 shooting death of a 17-year-old teenager in the west of the state of New York city.
“So often I’ve come close [to give], but God gave me the strength to continue and now I know why,” Dixon told Golf Digest magazine after his release.
Dixon had been in prison for 27 years – most of them in Attica Correctional Facility. He served a 39-year to life sentence and 2012, in an article that featured his artwork and fueled national interest, about his plight, he declared, was not for parole until 2030.
Dixon was cheered and after he a courthouse in Buffalo, N. Y. on Wednesday.
Of course, there is the fact that Dixon has not yet played the game of golf. Ever.
But during his time in prison, his lack of experience never stopped him from the imagination of his own courses and holes.
“I use a photo as a starting point and then change the image in my own way,” he wrote in the 2012 Golf Digest function. “Sometimes I find a small piece of reference material, such as a tree on a stamp or mountains on a calendar, and then imagine my own golf course.”
Dixon said he got hooked on golf-related drawings after a Attica warden brought to his cell, a picture of one of the most iconic holes in the sport – the par 3, twelfth hole at Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament.
The ex-inmate said the director asked him to paint the picture as a favor, and, after more than 15 hours with the help of colored pencils to re-create the hole known as Golden Bell — that is a recognisable face to a fan of golf – Dixon felt reborn.
Dixon says he became addicted to the drawings after doing one for a former prison warden.
“I had to get bored with drawing of animals and people, and what would I get from National Geographic,” he said. “After 19 years in Attica Correctional facility, the appearance of a golf hole spoke to me. It seemed to be quiet. I imagine, it would be a lot like fishing.”
Dixon continued to draw and continued to be profiled in a wide range of media.
A number of the works of art currently on the wall at his mother’s home. Other creations are sold online. But, more importantly, the drawings generated public interest in Dixon’s case, eventually clearing the path for his release.
Dixon, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office says, was convicted for the killing of Torriano Jackson, the attempted murder of his brother, Aaron, and the shooting of a bystander on Aug. 10, 1991, in the vicinity of a hot dog restaurant in Buffalo.
Dixon has always maintained that he is not the shooter, and another man, a 46-year-old Lamarr Scott, has repeatedly confessed to killing Torriano Jackson.
“Two days after the shooting], Lamar Scott, a boy I knew, but was not close, gave a statement to WGRZ television confessing to be the shooter and gave himself up to the police,” Dixon wrote in the Golf Digest article, noting the shoot – which was preceded by a fist fight was sparked by “romance drama among younger kids.”
“Because my father drove Lamar the city center, a lot of it was that he had forced Lamar in the confession. For murder? Please,” Dixon added.
Moments earlier in the same courtroom, Lamar, Scott pled guilty to the shooting Dixon was sentenced pic.twitter.com/WvElWJm9Qo
— Derek Gee (@DerekGeePhoto) September 19, 2018
But still, in front of a grand jury, Scott ran back to his confession, the Buffalo News reported, and Dixon remained in custody.
Scott, according to a Golf Digest report, claimed prosecutors had to pressure him into “changing his story by bringing his foster parents in the meeting room and threatening their well-being after they left.”
In 2002 affidavit, he added that, after confessing to the police about the shooter, “I was told that she was who she wanted, and leave the situation to them.”
But Christopher Belling, who prosecuted the case, disputed the account.
“[Scott] had his own lawyer, and I don’t remember any parents being there…[Scott] came to the grand jury, and he told a different story. That was the story of the grand jury heard, and that is the story they went with,” he said in an interview with Golf digest.
The outlet described the case Wednesday as “complicated, but on the surface it’s sloppy police work, no physical evidence that Dixon, conflicting testimony from unreliable witnesses, the confession on videotape to the crime by another man, a prosecutor that didn’t call a witness at the trial and perjury against those who said Dixon not to do.”
Family of Valentino Dixon delighted he is now free @WGRZ pic.twitter.com/5MV1AzrVlu
— Claudine Ewing (@ClaudineWgrz) September 19, 2018
Golf Digest reported that in the course of the years, lawyers of Dixon have made several appeals for his conviction to be destroyed and his daughter, Valentina, who led a grassroots effort to raise money for her father’s legal costs. Dixon has the petition Gov., Andrew Cuomo’s office for clemency or mercy and this was also support by means of a documentary, created by Georgetown University students taking a course on prison reform.
The Erie County District Attorney’s wrongful convictions unit ultimately examined Dixon’s this year and interviewed about 30 people, including Scott Dixon, according to the Buffalo News. Thirteen of those people, the newspaper says, involved Scott said Dixon was innocent.
“After reviewing this case, it was clear to me that Mr. Dixon should not longer continue serving a punishment for a crime he did not commit,” Erie County District Attorney, John J. Flynn said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement added that as a result of the “newly-discovered evidence is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Dixon committed the shooting.”
Scott pleaded guilty in Erie County Court Wednesday to counts of manslaughter and assault in the first degree and reckless assault in the third degree. He was already serving a prison sentence of 25 to 50 years for the 1993 armed robbery shooting that left the victim paralyzed and is facing a maximum of 25 years if he is convicted at the end of October on the costs in Dixon’s case.
“There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the couch, switched on automatically, all the bullets being shot. Unfortunately, Torriano were killed,” Scott said in court, according to the Associated Press. “I dropped the gun and ran and it was over.”
Scott added that he obtained from the Tec-9 semi-automatic used in the shooting of Dixon, and they drove together to the site where Torriano was killed.
The judge, Susan Eagan, confirmed payment of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, but said that the 5 to 15 years in prison, it has been met by him.
And because of that, Flynn said Dixon is “not an innocent man,” according to the Associated Press.
“Mr. Dixon is not guilty of the shooting and the murder for which he was found guilty of,” Flynn told reporters, “but Mr. Dixon brought the weapon to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon’s gun.”
Dixon, who received cheers in the courtroom after they told the on Wednesday that he is eligible for release, said he plans to continue drawing and will fight for other prisoners in a legal battle.
“If you have no money in this system is difficult to justice, because the system is not suitable or meant to be a bad person to a fair trial,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “So We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Dixon was met Wednesday by his daughter and her two 14-month-old twins, who told the news agency that she wants to take him shopping, buy him a cell phone and teach him how to use the Snapchat app. His mother said that the group went to the head of a Red Lobster for a meal, and that “everyone is invited.”
And his plans for today?
The breakfast, lunch and dinner for his mother and grandmother.