GolfDigest Investigation Fore the Win!

October 1, 2018

On Wednesday, September 19th, Valentino Dixon, a man who had served 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, had his conviction vacated and was released from Attica Correctional Facility. His freedom came thanks to the efforts of his unlikely ally: Golf Digest magazine.

Dixon’s road to redemption began when the warden at Attica asked him to draw a picture of a golf course. Dixon found it oddly therapeutic, considering he has never golfed himself, and began drawing more pictures of golf courses. He took his inspiration from photographs in Golf Digest magazine and eventually sent his artwork to the editor, along with his story and his claim that he was innocent. The editor of the magazine took an interest in Dixon and began an investigation that revealed a web of lies, poor police investigative work, multiple ignored confessions from the true killer, and insufficient evidence.

Golf Digest published the results of their investigation, which caught the attention of Georgetown University undergraduate students in the school’s Prison Reform Project. 6 years later, their efforts paid off and Valentino walked free while Lamarr Scott, who has repeatedly confessed to the crime, officially pleaded guilty.

It all started on August 10, 1991, when Jackson Torriano was shot and killed. Dixon was quickly arrested for the crime, despite his claims that he was home at the time of the crime. On August 12, 1991, Lamarr Scott confessed to the crime. He has repeatedly confessed to the crime ever since, more than 10 times in total. Not only have each of these confessions been ignored by prosecutors, but witnesses who attempted to testify on behalf of Dixon were threatened with perjury charges in order to deter them from testifying. Scott has since been imprisoned for a separate shooting. When he was imprisoned for this crime, he wrote a letter to the prosecutor in the Dixon case, telling him that if he had believed Scott’s confession from the 1991 shooting, he would not have been able to commit the later shooting.

The investigation by Georgetown University students further revealed prosecutorial misconduct. For example, prosecutors withheld critical evidence from Dixon’s defense team. Gunshot residue tests on Dixon’s hands and clothes came back negative, a fact that was never disclosed to the defense team. The students were able to conduct interviews of many of the witnesses in the case and found that many were adamant that Dixon was not the shooter, and that even the witnesses who had testified against Dixon were unsure of whether or not he had been there that night. In fact, one witness for the prosecution stated that he was coerced by the prosecution to give false testimony against Dixon.

Dixon has 4 children, one of which was in infant when he was incarcerated. She is now 27 years old with children of her own. While a declaration of innocence is no doubt an optimal result in a case like this, it cannot replace the life Dixon has missed out on. He missed out on a large portion of his own life, as well as the entirety of his daughter growing up. Another daughter was only 3 when he was imprisoned. It is impossible for those missed memories to be given back to Dixon and his family.

Dixon’s family, the Georgetown University students who investigated the case, and the instructors for the school course were all in attendance when Dixon walked out of the courthouse. Dixon said the first thing on his agenda was to go to a Red Lobster, as he had never been. His plan for the next day was to cook breakfast for his grandmother. Dixon has stated that he plans to continue the drawings that lead to his freedom, but that his main focus now will be work on reforming New York’s criminal justice system.

Image Source: Reuters

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