A man wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years has been freed, and golf and the media played a significant role.
Golf art in prison
Valentino Dixon, 48, had been serving a 39-years-to life sentence in New York for the 1991 killing of Torriano Jackson. However, he had drawn the interest of Golf Digest because of his gentle, evocative drawings of golf courses. Even though he’d never hit a ball, or even set foot on a golf course, Dixon crafted intricate, warm portraits of courses around the world, a hobby he started when a warden asked him to draw Augusta’s 12th.
“The guys can’t understand,” Dixon told Golf Digest. “They always say I don’t need to be drawing this golf stuff. I know it makes no sense, but for some reason my spirit is attuned to this game.”
It was a Golf Digest article that spurred a new look at Dixon’s case. Golf Digest reporter Max Adler began investigating the specifics of Dixon’s case, which involved a fistfight and gunfire, while writing a story on him six years ago, and found some serious discrepancies.
Wrongfully imprisoned, finally released
“The case is complicated,” Adler writes, “but on the surface it involves shoddy police work, zero physical evidence linking Dixon, conflicting testimony of unreliable witnesses, the videotaped confession to the crime by another man, a public defender who didn’t call a witness at trial, and perjury charges against those who said Dixon didn’t do it. All together, a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man with a prior criminal record into jail.”
The story led to more media outlets covering Dixon’s case, which in turn led to grassroots campaigns and pro bono efforts by New York attorneys. The newly created Erie County (N.Y.) district attorney’s wrongful convictions unit took another look at Dixon’s story, and found enough evidence to vacate his conviction. (Another individual pleaded guilty to the murder; thaat individual had apparently admitted responsibility for decades.)
For a look at the golf art that kept Dixon going during his long years in prison, click here.