What to Know
- A documentary produced by Georgetown students as part of a prison reform course helped draw public attention to Valentino Dixon's case.
- The class worked with Dixon's attorney to have the conviction overturned.
- A judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in a 1991 fatal shooting and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed.
A wrongfully convicted New York man who became known for his drawings of lush golf courses has reunited with the Georgetown University students who helped get him freed after 27 years in prison.
Valentino Dixon received a warm applause when he visited the university Thursday night for the "Golf Art Saved Me, Georgetown Set Me Free" panel.
"I’m still adjusting," he told News4.
Dixon walked free in September after a judge exonerated him in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.
"It feels like a dream come true. You know, I fantasized about this day while I was in there," Dixon said.
While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom.
"This is what kept me going so I never was in a long state of despair, Dixon said.
The drawings grabbed the attention of Golf Digest -- and three Georgetown University students who cracked open his case as part of a prison reform class.
The class discovered a valuable clue while talking to the lead prosecutor in the case. Dixon's hands and clothes were tested for gunshot residue and the results came back negative.
"That was a pivotal piece of information that we came across," student Ellie Goonetillake said.
The students then worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to overturn the case.
"They mean everything to me. Our relationship is going to be a life-long relationship," Dixon said.
"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative, previously said.
Howard taught the course with childhood friend Marty Tankleff who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.
"It was just everything we've ever wanted; it felt so miraculous," Goonetillake previously told News4.
Students interviewed witnesses, Dixon's family and Dixon himself. It was the first semester the class had been taught. And now, the class is working on three other wrongful conviction cases.
Dixon said he plans to make a living by selling his artwork from his newly launched website, ValentinoDixon.com.