After 27 Years, An Innocent Man’s Murder Conviction Has Been Vacated

After 27 Years, An Innocent Man’s Murder Conviction Has Been Vacated

Chloe Seaman
November 15, 2018

Valentino Dixon lost 27 years of his life. Perhaps it’s best described as years stolen from him by a system that, in his case, proved to be broken.

In 1991, 17-year-old Torriano Jackson was murdered. Dixon didn’t do it, but he was found guilty and sentenced to 39 years to life in prison. Recently, though, his murder charge was vacated, thanks to a reopened investigation inspired by an unlikely source: Golf Digest magazine.

Dixon had a penchant for sketching and drawing. He used colored pencils to create beautiful landscapes while he sat in the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. It all began when a warden brought Dixon a photo of a hole at a golf course, asking him to draw it. Dixon agreed, and didn’t stop after that first experience. There was something about the golf courses, the game, that drew Dixon to create colorful golf landscapes.

After dozens and dozens of submissions from Dixon to Golf Digest, the magazine finally wanted to tell Dixon’s story. The writers also discovered something amiss about his murder conviction. As Dixon told his side of things and the writers investigated more, they found that the case was fast-tracked and handled with some sloppy police work. In the end, Dixon was wrongfully convicted.

In fact, the guilty party had confessed … 27 years ago. Jackson’s murderer, LaMarr Scott, even admitted his guilt to Golf Digest. Finally, after enough public interest, media attention, help from Georgetown University students, and a grassroots effort by Dixon’s daughter, Valentina, the conviction was vacated. Scott officially confessed, and Dixon was released.

Dixon’s immediate plans were to celebrate his newfound freedom with his family over dinner, and then to buy a cell phone and get his passport. His wife of 12 years lives in Australia, and they had a lot of catching up to do. Dixon also said he wanted to visit a golf course. After that, it’s onto a bigger mission: fighting mass incarceration, Dixon told the New York Times.

Will Dixon’s Conviction Still Show Up in His Criminal Record?

Although it took 27 years of prison time, Dixon finally got his happy ending and a wrongful conviction vacated. So, that should automatically be reflected in his updated criminal record, right? Well, it isn’t always so simple.

Many of those whose charges are overturned, vacated, or dropped can still find themselves with a record that follows them into their new lives as a free citizen. Often, released individuals only find out about their spotty records at the most vulnerable and inconvenient of times, such as after applying for a job, and then being rejected. The adverse letter or other response from a prospective employer might be these unfortunate individuals’ first real peek at their record.

Getting records sealed or cleared can necessitates some paperwork and it can be expensive, especially if entrusted to a professional. To expunge one’s record, in many jurisdictions, one must:

  1. Apply for a Certificate of Actual Innocence
  2. Prove rehabilitation
  3. Seek a pardon

Expungement involves actually destroying records, but not all states will do this; rather many will prefer to simply seal criminal records. Every state has a different process, but one should prepare themselves for a lengthy time-frame and muster up patience and resourcefulness should it become necessary to jump through multiple hoops in order to prove innocence for a crime.

The first step one may want to take is to check your own record to see if you have anything to petition against. A background check can reveal your criminal record, and then you’ll have some solid facts and a point of departure. It’s a good idea to run such a report again after going through the expungement process to ensure that documents have indeed been destroyed or sealed.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.