GOLF DIGEST INVESTIGATION SETS MAN FREE AFTER 27 YEARS IN PRISON
Recently, a New York post-conviction case made international headlines and offered a fascinating story of man wrongfully imprisoned for a crime another man committed. The guilty man had already confessed to the crime years earlier.
The New York man now set free was using his artistic talent drawing golf courses while incarcerated when good fortune and assistance from dedicated post-conviction attorneys finally came his way — the rest of the tale is a story made for Hollywood.
Valentino Dixon, 48, had been serving a 39-years-to life sentence in New York for the 1991 killing of Torriano Jackson. However, he had drawn the interest of Golf Digest because of his gentle, evocative drawings of golf courses. Even though he’d never hit a ball, or even set foot on a golf course, Dixon crafted intricate, warm portraits of courses around the world, a hobby he started when a warden asked him to draw Augusta’s 12th.
“The guys can’t understand,” Dixon told Golf Digest. “They always say I don’t need to be drawing this golf stuff. I know it makes no sense, but for some reason my spirit is attuned to this game.”
It was a Golf Digest article that spurred a new look at Dixon’s case. Golf Digest reporter Max Adler began investigating the specifics of Dixon’s case, which involved a fistfight and gunfire, while writing a story on him six years ago, and found some serious discrepancies.
Wrongfully Imprisoned, Finally Released
“The case is complicated,” Adler writes, “but on the surface it involves shoddy police work, zero physical evidence linking Dixon, conflicting testimony of unreliable witnesses, the videotaped confession to the crime by another man, a public defender who didn’t call a witness at trial, and perjury charges against those who said Dixon didn’t do it. All together, a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man with a prior criminal record into jail.”
The story led to more media outlets covering Dixon’s case, which in turn led to grassroots campaigns and pro bono efforts by New York attorneys. The newly-created Erie County (N.Y.) district attorney’s wrongful convictions unit took another look at Dixon’s story, and found enough evidence to vacate his conviction. (Another individual pleaded guilty to the murder; that individual had apparently admitted responsibility for decades.)
Under certain circumstances, a defendant in Florida who has been convicted of a crime and has had her conviction affirmed on appeal may file for Post-Conviction Relief. In Florida, post-conviction relief is governed by Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Such a post-conviction relief motion is typically entitled a “Motion to Vacate Sentence.”
This legal procedure has gained some notoriety in the news lately thanks to the “Serial” podcast involving a murder case in Baltimore, MD. As a result of that podcast and the resulting public outcry, questions were raised about the original trial and the actions of the defendant’s trial lawyer. On March 29, 2018 the Maryland Appellate Court upheld the lower court ruling for a new trial in a 2-1 decision. The Court held that Adned Syed’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present alibi evidence and failing to question cellphone tower evidence.
Generally, there are two primary scenarios in which someone who is convicted can file a 3.850 motion:
- Ineffective assistance of counsel, and
- Newly discovered evidence.
There is a Federal counterpart to the Florida law, which can be found at Title 28 United States Code §2254 and §2255. That United States law requires that a Motion to Vacate Sentence be filed within one year of the date when the conviction became final, creating a conflict between the Florida and federal laws.
It takes an experienced criminal defense lawyer to properly advise you on to how to proceed with your post-conviction claims. If successful in your Florida post-conviction efforts, you could be granted an acquittal, a new trial, a lesser sentence, or other relief.
Nicholas G. Matassini is Board Certified in Criminal Trail Law and is AV Rated by Martindale Hubbell. He handles complex criminal investigations, trial litigation, appeals, and post-conviction claims in both State and Federal courts. Nicholas is a Life Member of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Visit www.matassinilaw.com for a free consultation on your post-conviction claim.