How One Man's Love Of Golf Helped Overturn His Wrongful Conviction 27 Years Later

"This right here is a big step in social change, social justice."

A man who served 27 years in prison due to a wrongful murder conviction walked free this week, and his love of golf helped make it happen. After Valentino Dixon sent his detailed golf course drawings to Golf Digest, the magazine looked into his case and brought attention to his story. Six years later, it paid off.

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Although Dixon had never actually been on a golf course, he became interested in the sport after the warden at Attica Correctional Facility asked him to draw the 12th hole at Augusta National for him, based on a photograph. He started drawing his own courses with colored pencils, telling the Washington Post that the art "lifted my spirits in a way I can't describe."

Golf Digest eventually took notice of his talent — and his case.

The magazine profiled Dixon in 2012, including a first-person essay by him in which he wrote, "I think God put me here to draw golf courses. Maybe one day I'll play." It was accompanied by a piece by editorial director Max Adler, providing more details about the murder of Torriano Jackson in 1991, for which Dixon was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison.

The story was picked up by other outlets, and eventually — with the help of the Erie County district attorney's wrongful convictions unit and the Georgetown University Prison Reform Project — Dixon's conviction was vacated. A man named LaMarr Scott, who had previously and repeatedly confessed to the murder, pleaded guilty to the crime.

In a new piece, Adler points to "shoddy police work," "zero physical evidence linking Dixon," and "conflicting testimony of unreliable witnesses" in the case, calling it "a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man with a prior criminal record into jail."

"Once a case crosses a certain threshold of media attention, it matters, even though it shouldn't," attorney Donald Thompson, who filed a motion to free Dixon, told the magazine. "It's embarrassing for the legal system that for a long time the best presentation of the investigation was from a golf magazine."

"This right here is a big step in social change, social justice," Dixon said in an interview after he left the courthouse this week, thanking Adler for all he had done. He said he intends to continue drawing, which he is used to doing for 10 hours a day, and shared that his mother bought him "a big easel" that he "can't wait to use." He told the Washington Post that he plans to go golfing next month. 

Dixon told Golf Digest in 2012 that his dream was to draw a course from real life. Now, thanks to the magazine's decision to share his story, he can do just that.

Cover image: VAlekStudio / Shutterstock.com

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