Barack and Michelle Obama: Valentino Dixon was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit; now he’s selling art to the Obamas

The New York-born man was convicted in 1992 of fatally shooting a man in downtown Buffalo in 1991.

However, drawings of his famous holes of golf, which he had never seen with his own eyes before, spared him a full sentence.

His first commissioned drawing came at the request of a warden after Dixon had been behind bars for nearly 20 years. And his performance of Augusta’s distinctive 12th hole sparked an idea in Dixon, who was denied in all courts.

“I realized at one point: ‘Hey, you might have to be one of the greatest artists to ever walk the earth to get recognition for what happened to you about this misdemeanor’,” Dixon told CNN’s Living Golf.

Dixon holds one of the golf drawings he made in prison.

His art got him noticed and articles in Golf Digest and other media brought his case to prominence in the public eye. With the help of a professor at Georgetown University, Marty Tankleff, and his law students, Dixon regained his freedom 27 years after being wrongly convicted.

Dixon’s art has also attracted the attention of some of the biggest names in the world – including former US President Barack Obama – but it’s the artist’s freelance project that he hopes will draw greater focus and stop anyone from going through what he did.

“It’s the fight against wrongful convictions and sentencing reform. I don’t have time to be completely overwhelmed. We have to get to work now,” said Dixon, describing his commitment to turning adversity. movement to help others.

Inmate Dixon of Attica Correctional Facility poses with the golf art he created in prison.

‘I know I’m innocent’

Life in downtown Buffalo hasn’t been easy for Dixon. “Its [a] kind of dangerous neighborhood, overrun with drugs but you get used to it,” he explains.

He says he has found an outlet in art. When Dixon was just three, his teacher noticed his talent and helped develop his skills and abilities with pencils; he was then referred to a performing arts high school, which he attended until his senior year.

He began to draw characters from newspapers, as close to the original as possible. Ultimately, Dixon says, he believes he’s gotten to the point where he paints them better than the actual artists themselves.

But on one fateful night in 1991, Dixon’s life changed.

While he was spending time with some friends at an intersection in Buffalo, a fight broke out in the crowd and someone started shooting. Although one of his friends returned fire, Dixon said he ran to his car and drove away as quickly as possible.

Soon after, he was pulled over by the police and asked if he was at the crime scene. After admitting he had been arrested, Dixon was taken into custody and charged with murder and shooting at three others.

His clothes and car were seized as evidence. He said authorities told him that if he actually fired a weapon, they would find gunpowder residue on his clothes.

At the time of his arrest, Dixon “was released on bail pending sentencing after committing crimes in June 1991 in two drive-by shootings,” according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

In the two days after his arrest, eight people gave witness statements to clarify anything related to Dixon’s crimes. The man who actually committed the crime, Lamarr Scott, confessed to police but was “fired from the station,” according to Dixon.

Although police ignored confessions and witness statements, Dixon said he knew that a test for gun residue on his clothes and car would come back negative so he should be fine. .

However, the police never released the results of those checks.

In the end, Dixon had to appear in court. “The court had to appoint me a public defender and the public defender was in possession of his confession, the videotaped confession of Lamar Scott, the testimony of eight witnesses and one of the witnesses. survivors, critically injured victims, [who] Dixon told them from his hospital bed that I didn’t shoot him.

“None of these witnesses went to court. My attorney didn’t call a single witness. He didn’t even testify before the jury. And all of this evidence existed before the jury. The trial begins.”

Dixon was later sentenced to a long prison term for a crime he did not commit.

“I care more about my mother because I am an only child and she is very distressed. I just told her that everything will be okay,” he said.

“I really don’t care about myself. I feel in my heart that I’m going to get justice, just not at the time. When you’re innocent and there’s proof, justice must prevail in the end, and this is the state of mind I had at the time.”

Dixon touches a golf drawing he is creating in prison.

Find his love again

Dixon admitted for the first seven years of his life in prison, he was in a “bubble,” and not in a good head space as he had come to terms with his situation.

He said he fell in love with drawing and spent his days “merely existing, just trying to survive the day.”

Then, during his eighth year in prison, his uncle Ronnie sent Dixon some crayons and paper, telling his grandson, “If you can recover your talent, you can claim it. your life back. You might have to get out of prison.”

Over time, his love of art was rekindled. It began with some drawings of Native Americans and flowers from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where some of his family resided.

He says he designed greeting cards – 400 at most – and other 200 to 300 pieces of art.

He was dubbed the “artist of Attica” and was noticed by a prison warden.

“The warden came up to me and he said, ‘You think you can pull out my favorite hole before I retire?'” Valentino – who has served nearly 20 years in prison at this point – remembers again.

“I said, ‘You know where I’m from, supervisor. I’m a black kid from the inner city. I’ve never played golf before. I don’t know anything about it, but bring a photo in. and me” I’ll draw it for you. ‘ And that was Augusta’s 12th hole. “

After being encouraged by his neighbors, Dixon began drawing more holes. He would take pictures of the holes from the magazine and recreate them. He even started creating images of golf courses and holes from his imagination.

He says he spends up to 10 hours a day drawing holes, and then he caught the attention of Max Adler, a journalist for Golf Digest magazine who writes an article a month titled “Golf saved my life.”

This column features stories of how golf helps people overcome the obstacles they face and specifically what golf has done to make them feel better.

So Dixon wrote to Adler, hoping the journalist would tell a story about his life. And in 2012, Adler wrote a three-page story about Dixon’s ordeal and his drawings.

In the words of Dixon: “It worked out from there.”

Dixon foretells one of his drawings of the 12th hole at Augusta.


Tankleff and his class at Georgetown University began discussing Dixon’s case in 2018 in hopes of helping him regain his freedom.

As soon as Dixon discovers that others outside his cell are taking an interest in his life, he knows he doesn’t have to spend long in prison.

“You know? I think this is it. I’ll go home now,” he recalled thinking.

Tankleff and his law students were on the phone with Dixon almost every day to discuss the case. Finally, as part of the documentary the students produced about his story, they interviewed the district attorney involved in the case.

“They asked him in the interview: ‘What happened to Valentino’s clothes in his car? I mean he tried on these items,'” Dixon explained.

“And he replied that everything goes negative. It comes back negative, but you never overturn the results. That alone you call a Brady violation in state law. And for a Brady violation. , you have the right to a new trial.”

And after a retrial, 27 years after being unjustly convicted, Dixon is a free man again.

Dixon smiles outside the Erie County Courthouse in Buffalo, NY


After his “emotional” release, Dixon started a prison rehabilitation fund called Liberal Arts, which organizes campaigns against wrongful convictions and sentencing reform.

Although he admits he’s not a fan of golf, Dixon was invited to the Masters Tournament and met 18-time winner Jack Nicklaus, who told the artist he reminded him of Nelson Mandela for his “spirit”.

Dixon may even have proved a lucky charm for Tiger Woods in 2019.

“I had one on one [chat] with Tiger for five minutes. I said: ‘Hey Tiger, you’re going to win the Masters.’ He looked at me and said: ‘I’ll do my best.’ I said: ‘No, you’re going to win the Masters.’ And he actually won that year. “

Last year, Dixon also caught the eye of Michelle Obama.

When her office reached out to inquire about a Christmas present for her husband Barack, a good golfer, Dixon was initially unsure if it was a hoax. After some testing, he realized the claim was correct and decided the theme of his first golf drawing, the 12th hole at Augusta, would be the perfect gift for the former US president.

Barack Obama posted an Instagram photo celebrating the gift from his wife with a heartfelt caption explaining the gift and Dixon’s story.

“It’s an incredible piece, but the story behind it is even better,” it read in part.

Dixon also received a personal video from Obama in which he thanked the artist and said he was proud of him.

It’s the culmination of Dixon’s remarkable story, and one that speaks to his extraordinary journey from being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit to to being freed and becoming an artist. famous golfer. | Barack and Michelle Obama: Valentino Dixon was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit; now he’s selling art to the Obamas


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