The New York native was sentenced in 1992 for the deadly capturing 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 individual, 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 thought in Dixon, whose appeals had been denied in all courts.
“I noticed sooner or later: ‘Hey, you might have to turn into one among the best artists to ever stroll this earth so as to get acknowledgement on what occurred 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 battle towards wrongful convictions and sentencing reform. I didn’t have time to simply be all overwhelmed. We received to go to work now,” mentioned Dixon, describing his dedication to turning adversity into a motion to assist others.
‘I knew I was harmless’
Life in downtown Buffalo wasn’t straightforward for Dixon. “It’s [a] type of harmful, drug infested neighborhood however you get used to it,” he defined.
He says he discovered an escape in art. When Dixon was simply three, his instructor seen his expertise and helped develop his ability and capability 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 unique as attainable. Eventually, Dixon says, he believed he received 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 mates at an intersection in Buffalo, a battle broke out in the crowd and somebody began capturing. Although one among his mates returned fireplace, Dixon says he ran to his automotive and drove away as shortly as attainable.
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 capturing at three different individuals.
His garments and automotive had been seized as proof. He says authorities advised him that if he had in reality 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 responsible in June 1991 to two drive-by shootings,” in accordance to the National Registry of Exonerations.
In the two 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 really 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 automotive would come again detrimental so he’d be wonderful.
However, police by no means produced the outcomes of these exams.
In the finish, Dixon appeared in court docket. “The court docket 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 among the victims that survived, critically wounded sufferer, [who] advised them from his hospital mattress that I didn’t shoot him,” Dixon mentioned.
“None of those witnesses made it to court docket. My lawyer didn’t name one single witness. He didn’t even give a gap assertion to the jury. And all of this proof existed earlier than trial began.”
Subsequently Dixon was handed a prolonged jail time period for a crime he didn’t commit.
“I was extra involved about my mother as a result of I’m an solely little one by her and she was so distraught. I simply advised her the whole lot was going to be alright,” he mentioned.
“I wasn’t actually involved about myself. I felt in my coronary heart that I was going to get justice, simply not at that second. When you are harmless of a crime and the proof is there, finally justice has to prevail, and that is the thoughts 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 not in a good head house as he got here to phrases along with his state of affairs.
He says he had fallen out of affection with drawing and spent his days “simply merely current, simply attempting 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’ll be able to reclaim your abilities, you’ll be able to reclaim your life. You might have to draw your self out of jail.”
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 assume you’ll be able to draw my favourite golf gap earlier than I retire?'” Valentino — who had already served practically 20 years in jail at this level — recalled.
“I mentioned: ‘You know the place I’m from, warden. I’m a Black child from the interior metropolis. I’ve by no means golfed earlier than. I do not know something about it, however carry a image in and I’ll draw it for you.’ And it was the twelfth gap 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 photos of golf programs and holes from his creativeness.
He’d spend up to 10 hours a day drawing holes, he says, and then 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 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 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 type 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 feel that is it. I’m going dwelling now,” he remembers considering.
Tankleff and his regulation college students had been on the cellphone with Dixon nearly every single day discussing the case. Eventually, as a part of a documentary the college students produced on his story, they interviewed the district lawyer concerned in the case.
“They requested him throughout the interview: ‘What occurred to Valentino’s garments in his automotive? I imply, you examined these things,'” Dixon defined.
“And he responded that the whole lot got here again detrimental. It got here again detrimental, however you by no means turned the outcomes over. That alone is what you name a Brady violation in state regulation. And due to a Brady violation, you might be 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 5 minutes. I mentioned: ‘Hey Tiger, you are going to win the Masters.’ He’s appears at me and says: ‘I’m going to attempt my finest.’ I mentioned: ‘No, you are going to win the Masters.’ And he really gained that yr.”
Last yr, Dixon additionally caught the consideration of Michelle Obama.
When her workplace reached out to inquire about a 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, can be the excellent current for the former US president.
“It’s an unimaginable piece, however the story behind it’s even higher,” it learn partially.
Dixon additionally obtained a private video from Obama through which he thanked the artist and mentioned he was happy with him.
It’s the crowning second of Dixon’s exceptional story, and one which caps his extraordinary journey from being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit to being freed, and changing into a famend golf artist.