Valentino Dixon was serving 39-years-to-life for a murder he didn’t commit and found some comfort drawing meticulously detailed golf-scapes with colored pencils.
Ater a golfing magazine published photos of his work in 2012, university students and a Rochester attorney helped prove his innocence.
His conviction in 1991 was based solely on eyewitness testimony. Within days of Dixon’s arrest, another man confessed to the crime, but Dixon was left in prison.
Golf was a sport Dixon, now 48, had never played. He hadn’t even set foot on a golf course. In the infamous Attica Correctional Facility, Dixon got hooked when a warden brought in a photograph of Augusta National’s 12th hole and asked him to draw it as a favor, Golf Digest reported:
“In the din and darkness of his stone cell, the placid composition of grass, sky, water and trees spoke to Dixon. And the endless permutations of bunkers and contours gave him a subject he could play with. “The guys can’t understand,” Dixon has said. “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.”
Over the last six years, Dixon mailed some of his work to Max Adler of Golf World. Adler would send Dixon copies of Golf Digest to use as reference material…
“… but Dixon would also concoct golf scenes by extrapolating around something as simple and small as the flower on a stamp,” Adler wrote. “They are made of layer upon exacting layer of colored pencil (Attica inmates are not allowed to have paint). All of his drawings are on paperboard, and the largest panels he uses are 30-inches by 20-inches; the smallest 7-inches by 9-inches. The constraints of his cell prevented him from going bigger. However, to subvert this limitation, a few times he made composites, where as many as nine paper boards fit together like a puzzle to form a massive 5-feet square image.
Because he has never been on a golf course, “the look of a Dixon golf hole is surreal, dreamy, of another world,” Adler said. “And against all odds and reason, his world is a magical one.”
On Wednesday Dixon walked out of a Buffalo courtroom a free man, exonerated for the homicide that kept him locked up for 27 years. Rochester attorney Donald Thompson spent nearly 20 years trying to prove Dixon’s innocence, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Dixon was given a vacated conviction, which means innocence. He was helped, Golf Digest reported, by a recent report filed by the Erie County district attorney’s wrongful convictions unit — a new type of department popping up in various districts these days. Georgetown University students helped with the report. As part of a class, a group of undergrads created documentaries, websites and social-media campaigns for three other imprisoned people thought to be wrongfully convicted.
It took about a hundred drawings before Golf Digest noticed Dixon, Adler wrote, “but when we did, we also noticed his conviction seemed flimsy. So we investigated the case and raised the question of his innocence.”
Dixon’s case involved a lack of physical evidence, 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 people who said Dixon didn’t do it, Adler wrote. “All together, a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man with a prior criminal record into jail. Dixon’s past wasn’t spotless, he had sold some cocaine, but that didn’t make him a murderer.”
In a 2012 article he authored for Golf Digest, Dixon talked about creating golf holes with pencils. It’s “how I pass the time,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll get to play the game I’ve only imagined”:
“It’s possible I wouldn’t have lived to this age if I’d stayed on the outside. When I was a young man I wasn’t useful to society — this I don’t argue. But I’m not a murderer. That’s the worst thing somebody can be, and I’m not that. I hope all you need to do is look at my drawings to know that.”