The New York native was sentenced in 1992 for the deadly taking pictures of a man in downtown Buffalo in 1991.
However, his drawings of well-known golf course holes, which he’d by no means seen earlier than in particular person, saved him from serving his full sentence.
His first commissioned drawing got here at the request of a jail warden after Dixon had spent nearly 20 years behind bars. And his rendition of Augusta’s distinctive twelfth gap sparked an concept in Dixon, whose appeals had been denied in all courts.
“I realized at some point: ‘Hey, you may have to become one of the greatest artists to ever walk this earth in order to get acknowledgement on what happened to you on this wrongful conviction,'” Dixon advised CNN’s Living Golf.
His art helped get him seen and articles in Golf Digest and different media shops raised his case to better prominence in the public’s eye. Thanks to the assist of a professor at Georgetown University, Marty Tankleff, and his regulation college students, Dixon reclaimed his freedom 27 years after his wrongful conviction.
“It’s the fight against wrongful convictions and sentencing reform. I didn’t have time to just be all overwhelmed. We got to go to work now,” stated Dixon, describing his dedication to turning adversity into a motion to assist others.
‘I knew I was harmless’
Life in downtown Buffalo wasn’t simple for Dixon. “It’s [a] kind of dangerous, drug infested neighborhood but you get used to it,” he defined.
He says he discovered an escape in art. When Dixon was simply three, his trainer seen his expertise and helped develop his ability and talent with a pencil; later, he was launched to a performing arts highschool, which he attended till his senior yr.
He started redrawing characters from newspapers, as shut to the authentic as doable. Eventually, Dixon says, he believed he obtained to the level the place he was drawing them higher than the precise artists themselves.
But on one fateful night in 1991, Dixon’s life modified.
While he was spending time with some pals at an intersection in Buffalo, a battle broke out in the crowd and somebody began taking pictures. Although certainly one of his pals returned fireplace, Dixon says he ran to his automobile and drove away as shortly as doable.
Shortly afterward, he was pulled over by police and requested if he was at the scene of the crime. After admitting he had been, Dixon was taken into custody and charged with homicide and for taking pictures at three different folks.
His garments and automobile had been seized as proof. He says authorities advised him that if he had actually fired a weapon, they might discover gunpowder residue on his clothes.
At the time of his arrest, Dixon “was out on bail awaiting sentencing after he pled guilty in June 1991 to two drive-by shootings,” in accordance to the National Registry of Exonerations.
In the two days following his arrest, eight folks got here forth with witness accounts that cleared Dixon of something to do with the crime. The man who truly dedicated the crime, Lamarr Scott, confessed to police however was “kicked out of the station,” in accordance to Dixon.
Although police disregarded the confession and the witness statements, Dixon says he knew that the outcomes of the gunshot residue testing on his garments and automobile would come again unfavourable so he’d be advantageous.
However, police by no means produced the outcomes of these checks.
In the finish, Dixon appeared in courtroom. “The court had to assign me a public defender and the public defender had in his possession the confession, the videotaped confession of Lamar Scott, the eight eyewitnesses’ statements, and one of the victims that survived, critically wounded victim, [who] told them from his hospital bed that I didn’t shoot him,” Dixon stated.
“None of these witnesses made it to court. My attorney did not call one single witness. He didn’t even give an opening statement to the jury. And all of this evidence existed before trial started.”
Subsequently Dixon was handed a prolonged jail time period for a crime he didn’t commit.
“I was more concerned about my mom because I’m an only child by her and she was so distraught. I just told her everything was going to be alright,” he stated.
“I wasn’t really concerned about myself. I felt in my heart that I was going to get justice, just not at that moment. When you’re innocent of a crime and the evidence is there, eventually justice has to prevail, and this is the mind state that I had at the time.”
Rediscovering his love
Dixon admits for the first seven years of life in jail, he was in a “bubble,” and never in a good head area as he got here to phrases along with his scenario.
He says he had fallen out of affection with drawing and spent his days “just merely existing, just trying to survive day-to-day.”
Then in his eighth yr in jail, his Uncle Ronnie despatched Dixon some coloured pencils and paper, telling his nephew: “If you can reclaim your talents, you can reclaim your life. You may have to draw yourself out of prison.”
Over time, his love of his art was rekindled. It began with some drawings of Native Americans and flowers from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the place a few of his household resided.
He says he designed greeting playing cards — as many as 400 — and one other 200 to 300 items of paintings.
He was dubbed the “artist of Attica” and got here to the consideration of a jail warden.
“The warden comes to me and he says, ‘You think you can draw my favorite golf hole before I retire?'” Valentino — who had already served practically 20 years in jail at this level — recalled.
“I said: ‘You know where I’m from, warden. I’m a Black kid from the inner city. I’ve never golfed before. I don’t know anything about it, but bring a picture in and I’ll draw it for you.’ And it was the 12th hole of Augusta.”
After encouragement from his cell neighbor, Dixon started drawing extra golf holes. He would take photos of holes from magazines and recreate them. He even started creating photographs of golf programs and holes from his creativeness.
He’d spend up to 10 hours a day drawing holes, he says, after which he caught the consideration of Max Adler, a journalist for Golf Digest journal who wrote an article each month titled “Golf saved my life.”
The column featured tales about how golf helped folks overcome obstacles they had been coping with and what particularly golf did to make them really feel higher.
So Dixon wrote to Adler, hoping the journalist would function a story on his life. And in 2012, Adler wrote a three-page story on Dixon’s ordeal and his drawings.
In Dixon’s phrases: “It kind of took off from there.”
Tankleff and his class at Georgetown University started discussing Dixon’s case in 2018 in the hopes of serving to him regain his freedom.
As quickly as Dixon came upon that others outdoors his cell had been taking an curiosity in his life, he knew he wasn’t lengthy for jail.
“You know what? I think this is it. I’m going home now,” he remembers pondering.
Tankleff and his regulation college students had been on the telephone with Dixon nearly daily discussing the case. Eventually, as a part of a documentary the college students produced on his story, they interviewed the district legal professional concerned in the case.
“They asked him during the interview: ‘What happened to Valentino’s clothes in his car? I mean, you tested these items,'” Dixon defined.
“And he responded that everything came back negative. It came back negative, but you never turned the results over. That alone is what you call a Brady violation in state law. And because of a Brady violation, you are entitled to a new trial.”
And after a retrial, 27 years after his wrongful conviction, Dixon was a free man once more.
Following his “emotional” launch, Dixon began a jail reform basis known as the Art of Freedom, which campaigns towards wrongful convictions and for sentencing reform.
Although he admits that he’s not a golf fan in any respect, Dixon was invited to the Masters Tournament and met 18-time main winner Jack Nicklaus, who advised the artist that he reminded him of Nelson Mandela due to his “spirit.”
Dixon would possibly even have proved a good luck appeal for Tiger Woods in 2019.
“I had a one-on-one [chat] with Tiger for five minutes. I said: ‘Hey Tiger, you’re going to win the Masters.’ He’s looks at me and says: ‘I’m going to try my best.’ I said: ‘No, you’re going to win the Masters.’ And he actually won that year.”
Last yr, Dixon additionally caught the consideration of Michelle Obama.
When her workplace reached out to inquire about a Christmas reward for her husband Barack, who’s a eager golfer, Dixon initially wasn’t positive whether or not it was a hoax. After a little bit of checking, he realized the request was real and determined the topic of his first-ever golf drawing, the twelfth gap at Augusta, could be the good current for the former US president.
“It’s an incredible piece, but the story behind it is even better,” it learn partially.
Dixon additionally obtained a private video from Obama by which he thanked the artist and stated he was pleased with him.
It’s the crowning second of Dixon’s outstanding story, and one which caps his extraordinary journey from being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit to being freed, and turning into a famend golf artist.
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