How a black man got sprung from jail thanks to golf

Valentino Dixon went to jail for a crime he didn't commit, but he got out through an unconventional means

There have been incredible stories over the years of black men and women being freed from prison for crimes they

Valentino Dixon
Valentino Dixon (WGRZ-TV)

There have been incredible stories over the years of black men and women being freed from prison for crimes they did not commit, but arguably none have ever happened thanks to golf until now.

Valentino Dixon, 47, walked out of the infamous Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York on Wednesday a free man for the first time since 1991. He was serving a 39 years to life sentence for the killing of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson, a crime he maintained that he didn’t commit.

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“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Dixon said to the Buffalo News. “We’ve been waiting 27 years for this.”

Dixon was convicted of the crime despite numerous witnesses saying that he was not the shooter. The actual killer, Dixon’s former friend Lamarr Scott, confessed to killing Jackson during a hearing an hour earlier.

Scott, currently in prison for another shooting, told the judge that a fight broke out that August morning in Buffalo and his first reaction was to find a gun that Dixon had previously given him.

“I grabbed the gun,” he told Erie County Judge Susan Eagan. “I pulled the trigger and all the bullets came out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying.”

Scott had been attempting to confess to the shooting since the day after it occurred. Yet his confessions were repeatedly ignored by prosecutors and police who “had who they wanted” in Dixon.

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“Mr. Scott has been confessing to this crime since Aug. 12, 1991,” Assistant District Attorney Sara Dee told the court. “He has confessed to this crime in excess of 10 times.”

Dixon’s story first gained national notoriety in 2012 when he was profiled in Golf Digest. While locked up in the Wende Correctional Facility, Dixon became known for his elaborate drawings of golf courses, despite having never played the game.

“The past two years I’ve drawn more than 130 golf pictures with colored pencils and 6-by-8-inch sheets of paper I order through the mail” Dixon said in the interview. “When I was little, my mom and grandma used to slap my hand because of the unconventional way I gripped the pencil, until one day my aunt Gwen told them to stop and look at the comics I’d done from the newspaper.

“Growing up on the east side of Buffalo, my only sports were football and basketball,” he added. “Talk about golf in our neighborhood and you’d probably get shot.”

Dixon graduated from a performing arts high school and stayed out of trouble before falling in with drug dealers. He admitted to being a “mid-level” cocaine dealer but was adamant in his innocence in the killing.

The Golf Digest piece led to the Georgetown University Prisons and Justice Initiative taking up his cause and eventually getting a wrongful conviction investigation started. Dixon had exhausted his appeals but was able to final be freed.

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“Of course, it’s injustice,” Dixon said when asked about his wrongful imprisonment. “We had to wait for the right people to come into office. It’s not always popular to do the right thing.”

Dixon plans on spending time with his family, which he has only seen from behind bars since 1991. His daughter was a baby when he was sent to prison – now she is 27 with two infant daughters.

Dixon also said he wants to help reform New York’s criminal justice system and help prevent cases like his from happening again.

“The fight isn’t over,” Dixon said Wednesday. “The hard work is ahead of me.”