HIS STORY Born on October 20, 1969, Valentino Dixon grew up in downtown Buffalo. As his mother's only son, Valentino was raised with two stepbrothers from his stepfather’s prior marriage. As a child, Valentino was a gifted artist who loved to draw.
On August 10, 1991, a late-night fight broke out at a gathering outside a restaurant in Buffalo, New York. In the ensuing mayhem, Torriano Jackson was shot and killed. Based on an anonymous tip, the police arrested Valentino Dixon for his murder and for shooting at three other people.
Two days after Valentino’s arrest, Lamarr Scott confessed to the news media that he shot and killed Jackson. Despite this confession, Scott was not taken into custody, and detectives continued to pursue Valentino. Prosecutors then built a case against Valentino based on several shaky eyewitnesses (some of whom later recanted and claimed to have been pressured by the police to frame Valentino). At trial, Valentino, just 22 years old and with infant daughter, Valentina, at home, was convicted and sentenced to 38 1/2 years-to-life in prison.
Valentino struggled to adjust to life in prison, until he reconnected with his inner passion for art. He regained his motivation to draw by following his uncle's advice: “if you reclaim your talent, you can reclaim your life.” Valentino has been drawing ever since; for more than two decades, he drew from six to ten hours a day.
At one point, the warden at Attica Correctional Facility asked Valentino to draw the 12th hole of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club. Valentino, who had never set foot on a golf course and knew nothing about the sport, starting drawing images inspired by photos in the magazine Golf Digest. Eventually, Valentino even drew his own golf creations and said that golf art became his escape from the harsh reality of prison.
In 2012, Golf Digest editorial director Max Adler featured Valentino and his stunning artwork in his “golf saved my life” column. Adler also researched Valentino’s case, and came to the conclusion that Valentino was truly innocent of the murder for which he had been wrongfully convicted. The next year, The Golf Channel ran a segment about Valentino’s case as well, gaining him — and his artistic talent — national attention.
Despite this attention, and the committed work of pro bono attorneys Donald Thompson and Alan Rosenthal, Valentino’s appeals stalled, and his hope waned. But in January 2018, Valentino learned that three Georgetown University undergraduate students would re-investigate his case. Their work was for a class taught by Professors Marc Howard and Marty Tankleff, childhood friends who were separated when Marty himself was wrongly convicted and served almost 18 years before being exonerated.
The students — Ellie Goonetillake, Julie Fragonas, and Naoya Johnson — produced a powerful documentary that retraces the incredible twists and turns of the case and shows that Valentino was clearly innocent. They broke new ground by interviewing former witnesses and filming the original prosecutor, who revealed information critical to Valentino’s final appeal. Their interview of the new District Attorney, John Flynn, ended with a promise by Flynn to conduct a thorough and fair review through the Conviction Integrity Unit.
On September 19, 2018 — 27 years after Valentino Dixon’s initial wrongful conviction — Lamarr Scott pleaded guilty to the murder of Torriano Jackson, and Valentino walked out of prison a free man.