Wrongfully Convicted Golf Artist Freed

A man who found solace during his nearly three-decade imprisonment by drawing and painting golf courses was freed on Wednesday after a judge set aside his murder conviction in favor of accepting a guilty plea from a man who confessed to the crime two days after it happened.

Valentino Dixon was convicted of murdering 17-year-old Torriano Jackson during a fight on a Buffalo street corner in 1991. 

“There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying,” Lamarr Scott told the court. Scott is currently serving a 25-year sentence for an unrelated attempted murder charge. “I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with.”

Scott said he had gotten the gun used in the Jackson murder from Dixon, and the two men had driven to the scene of the eventual murder together. Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon — a 5-15 year sentence but said after being in jail for 27 years, Dixon had satisfied his required time.

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“You are eligible for release today,” Judge Eagan said Wednesday.

“Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don’t be misguided in that at all,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said following the hearing, describing Dixon as an “up-and-coming drug dealer in Buffalo.

“Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of, but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon’s gun.”

Dixon rekindled his childhood love of drawing while behind bars. He would spend up to 10 hours a day creating vibrant colored pencil sketches, often depicting golf courses, which garnered the attention of both Golf Digest and Golf Channel, both of whom did lengthy profiles on Dixon during his imprisonment. 

“I’ve never hit a golf ball. I’ve never set foot on a golf course. Everything I draw is from inside a 6-by-10 prison cell,” Dixon wrote in his first-person Golf Digest profile. “The first course I ever drew was for warden James Conway. He would often stop by my cell to ask how my appeal was going and to see my drawings. Before he retired, the warden brought me a photograph of the 12th hole at Augusta National and asked if I could draw it for him.

“I spent 15 hours on it. The warden loved it, and it was gratifying to know my art would hang in his house. Something about the grass and sky was rejuvenating. I’d been getting bored with drawing animals and people and whatever I’d get out of National Geographic. After 19 years in Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility, the look of a golf hole spoke to me. It seemed peaceful.”