Golf Digest, a publication not widely known for investigative journalism, is being credited with helping to overturn the wrongful murder conviction of an innocent man.
On Wednesday, Valentino Dixon, 48, gained his freedom in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom after 27 years behind bars for a crime that prosecutors now say he did not commit.
“They were kind of the first stone that started rolling down a hill as far as reinvestigation of the case,” Donald M. Thompson, an attorney who represented Dixon for 20 years, told TheWrap on Thursday. “They kind of started the avalanche here.”
That avalanche began in 2012 when Golf Digest ran a profile of Dixon, who was serving a 39-years-to-life sentence for the murder of Torriano Jackson at a party in 1991.
The magazine’s interest in the case was sparked by Dixon’s hobby of passing time behind bars drawing meticulous landscapes of golf courses.
“Is Valentino Dixon innocent?” the magazine asked before laying out its case, which included what the story described as dodgy police work, a weak public defender and another man (who turned out to be the actual killer) who confessed to the crime at the time but then recanted.
“They kind of kept interest alive in his case,” said Thompson, who noted that the 2012 Golf Digest probe led to a formal reinvestigation by the district attorney of Erie County, New York.
On Wednesday, Golf Digest writer Max Adler took a well-deserved victory lap.
“Golf Digest’s 2012 article led to further national spotlights on the case by NBC/Golf Channel, CRTV.com, Fox Sports, the Georgetown University Prison Reform Project and others,” he wrote. “Alongside this, Dixon’s daughter, Valentina, led a grassroots campaign to raise money for her father’s legal fees by selling his artwork online.”
The 2012 Digest piece was also included in the final motion filed by Thompson and his partner Alan Rosenthal that ultimately resulted in Dixon’s release, the magazine reported.
Thompson told TheWrap that his client has never actually played golf before, but was planning to use his freedom to hit the links.
“We might try something,” he said laughing. “Or he might just want to go out and walk around. He’s never been on a golf course.”