The New York native was sentenced in 1992 for the deadly capturing of a person 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 on 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 thought 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 informed CNN’s Living Golf.
His artwork helped get him seen and articles in Golf Digest and different media retailers raised his case to larger prominence within the public’s eye. Thanks to the assistance of a professor at Georgetown University, Marty Tankleff, and his legislation 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,” mentioned Dixon, describing his dedication to turning adversity right into a motion to assist others.
Life in downtown Buffalo wasn’t straightforward 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 artwork. When Dixon was simply three, his instructor seen his expertise and helped develop his talent and talent with a pencil; later, he was launched to a performing arts highschool, which he attended till his senior 12 months.
He started redrawing characters from newspapers, as near the unique as attainable. Eventually, Dixon says, he believed he received to the purpose 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 associates at an intersection in Buffalo, a combat broke out within the crowd and somebody began capturing. Although one in every of his associates returned fireplace, Dixon says he ran to his automobile and drove away as rapidly as attainable.
Shortly afterward, he was pulled over by police and requested if he was on the scene of the crime. After admitting he had been, Dixon was taken into custody and charged with homicide and for capturing at three different individuals.
His garments and automobile had been seized as proof. He says authorities informed him that if he had in truth 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 line with the National Registry of Exonerations.
In the 2 days following his arrest, eight individuals 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 line with 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 detrimental so he’d be wonderful.
However, police by no means produced the outcomes of these checks.
In the top, Dixon appeared in court docket. “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 mentioned.
“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 against the law he did not 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 mentioned.
“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 primary seven years of life in jail, he was in a “bubble,” and never in a superb head house as he got here to phrases together 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 12 months 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 artwork 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 eye 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 as much as 10 hours a day drawing holes, he says, after which he caught the eye 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 individuals 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 characteristic a narrative 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 within the hopes of serving to him regain his freedom.
As quickly as Dixon discovered 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 considering.
Tankleff and his legislation college students had been on the cellphone with Dixon nearly every single day discussing the case. Eventually, as a part of a documentary the scholars produced on his story, they interviewed the district legal professional concerned within 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 referred to as the Art of Freedom, which campaigns in opposition to wrongful convictions and for sentencing reform.
Although he admits that he isn’t a golf fan in any respect, Dixon was invited to the Masters Tournament and met 18-time main winner Jack Nicklaus, who informed the artist that he reminded him of Nelson Mandela due to his “spirit.”
Dixon may even have proved a superb 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 12 months, Dixon additionally caught the eye of Michelle Obama.
When her workplace reached out to inquire a few Christmas present for her husband Barack, who’s a eager golfer, Dixon initially wasn’t certain 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 right current for the previous US president.
“It’s an incredible piece, but the story behind it is even better,” it learn partially.
Dixon additionally acquired a private video from Obama during which he thanked the artist and mentioned he was happy with him.
It’s the crowning second of Dixon’s outstanding story, and one which caps his extraordinary journey from being jailed for against the law he did not decide to being freed, and changing into a famend golf artist.