Artist cleared of murder charge says best art is yet to come
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — After being locked up for 27 years for a murder he didn’t commit, Valentino Dixon has shed the confines of prison in a big way, logging thousands of miles during his first few months of freedom to field questions about the artwork that got him and his quest for release noticed.
Among 1,000 colored-pencil drawings Dixon produced behind bars are 400 seemingly unlikely scenes of golf courses, subject matter that was foreign to him until a prison official suggested it.
Now, in freedom, those scenes of lush foliage and rolling greens that he could only imagine from the fortress-like Attica Correctional Facility have become reality.
Dixon has been to California’s Pebble Beach, along with England and Mexico, and has been invited to the Masters Tournament in the three months since being freed, often at the invitation of media outlets including Golf Digest, which has spotlighted his unlawful conviction.
“It was so serene, peaceful. I can’t even describe what it did to my spirit,” he recalled of visiting the Pebble Beach course he’d drawn three times, spending hours working colored pencils down to stubs while behind bars.
“The hole that I focused on has an old wooden fence around it. I drew that fence in most of the pictures and I sat on that same fence when I went there and sketched a drawing,” he said Monday.
“My best art is yet to come,” he said inside his mother’s Buffalo home, where his golf landscapes hang alongside African art and portraits of historic figures, “because I’m not confined or constricted to materials and lighting. Even subject matter — I didn’t really have any subject matter in there, a few magazines.”
Already, a group of caddies’ wives from the Ryder Cup commissioned a drawing as a gift to USA captain Jim Furyk. Dixon hopes to make a living off of his drawings, which can sell for thousands of dollars, and the greeting cards he began illustrating and writing while locked up.
Still, he has no plans to put prison completely behind him. Dixon said his other focus is on reforming the criminal justice system that convicted him of a fatal shooting even after another man confessed.
“It weighs heavily on my mind that we need change in the system, so my mind is not at peace until we get something done,” Dixon said. He acknowledges being involved with drugs and weapons before his arrest but said being too poor to afford a lawyer was another major strike against him.
Buffalo attorney James Ostrowski, who along with Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative and others, took up Dixon’s cause, said the case was hurt in part by post-9-11 restrictions on appeals.
“The system should recognize that the system is not perfect and let’s not let somebody suffer just because we don’t want to admit that one of the players in the system made a mistake,” Ostrowski said.
Dixon was set free after a judge accepted a guilty plea from Lamarr Scott, who had first confessed to the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson two days after it happened. In a Sept. 19 hearing, Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to a crowded corner where fighting broke out.
“Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don’t be misguided in that at all,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing, at which Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon. She ruled he had satisfied its 5- to 15-year sentence.