A Man Was Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder So Golf Digest Magazine Stepped In To Set Things Right

Nick Givas | Media And Politics Reporter

Writers for Golf Digest magazine put on their investigative reporter hats and helped free a man who had been wrongly convicted of murder, after he’d already served 19 years in prison.

Valentino Dixon, who was released Wednesday, was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison for a gunfight that took place on the streets of Buffalo, New York, in 1991, according to The New York Times. Dixon was 21 years old at the time and was found guilty in 1992 of murdering 17-year-old Torriano Jackson.

CNN’s John Avlon said Friday Dixon was an avid drawer of all things golf while in prison, after the warden asked him to draw a picture of a hole at Augusta National in Georgia. Dixon became acquainted with some of Golf Digest’s staff as he continued to draw golf related images and they decided to dig deeper into his case. (RELATED: Wrongfully Accused: Man Exonerated Of Rape After Spending Almost 30 Years Behind Bars)

“Something about the game spoke to his spirit, despite having never stepped on a golf course before,” Avlon said on “New Day.”

“Dixon became so good and so prolific that it eventually caught the attention of Golf Digest magazine, which profiled him back in 2012,” he added. “They noticed his work, but they also noticed something else. His conviction was about as flimsy as the prison sanctioned 6 by 8 inch paper his work was draw on … golf writers became investigative reporters. Then more media picked up the story.”

Avlon said Georgetown media students also picked up the story for a class they were taking on prison reform. After the media brought renewed interest to the case, Dixon was released.

WATCH:

“This happened because of the power of the press,” Avlon added. “Here’s what his lawyer Donald Thomas told Golf Digest, ‘Once a case crosses a certain threshold of media attention, it matters even though it shouldn’t. It’s embarrassing for the legal system that … the investigation was from a golf magazine.'”

Golf Digest published its first piece on Dixon in 2012 about his golf drawings from prison. Dixon co-authored it with Max Adler. Adler said he advocated for Dixon after the article by writing letters to the attorney general in New York and the department of corrections, proclaiming his innocence.

Avlon claimed there’s at least a 1 percent wrongful conviction rate in the U.S. and said about 23,000 innocent people are serving time in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“Put that in perspective, imagine a college stadium full of innocent people unfairly imprisoned in America,” Avlon concluded. “For now one thing is clear, the free press helped free a man this week after nearly three decades were stolen from him.”

Torriano’s brother Aaron Jackson, who was hurt during the shooting, maintains Dixon is the person he saw during the altercation and still believes he’s guilty.

“He’s not innocent, and he wasn’t tried and convicted in a kangaroo court,” Jackson told WGRZ. “I don’t think he should ever be free.”

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