Narrated by Actor Wendell Pierce, Film Chronicles How a Golf Course Drawing Began a Chain of Events that would Lead to Dixon’s Release from Prison
(ORLANDO, Fla.) – For 27 years, Valentino Dixon had been serving a 33 1/3 years to life sentence in prison for a murder he claims he did not commit. This past September, Dixon was released from prison following a series of events that began with a sketch depicting one of golf’s most iconic holes. Golf Channel’s latest Golf Films project, 27 Years: The Exoneration of Valentino Dixon unravels how Dixon’s drawing ultimately led to newly-discovered evidence pointing toward his innocence, and follows Dixon as he visits picturesque Pebble Beach, the first golf course he’d ever seen in person.
Premiering on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel and narrated by actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Suits, Jack Ryan), the film – featuring new interviews with key individuals involved in the case – will expand on the initial Golf Digest story in 2012 and Golf Channel’s Emmy-nominated feature in 2013 that helped bring national attention to the case that would lead to Dixon’s eventual release.
“I had nine lawyers in 27 years. If [someone told] me this was hopeless, then I was going to find another lawyer, or find a way to get the story out.” – Valentino Dixon
His ultimate vindication began with a sketch of Augusta National Golf Club’s famed par-3 12th hole at the request of Attica Correctional Facility’s (Attica, N.Y.) superintendent. Having never stepped foot on a golf course, Dixon was attracted to the peacefulness of sketching the golf hole. He subsequently was given copies of Golf Digest magazines, and he began to sketch pictures inspired by the holes he was paging through.
“I can’t explain it. It’s peaceful. The only time I really had any peace from where I came from was when my dad took me fishing. Drawing golf courses kind of reminded me of that.” – Dixon
“I put my headphones on. I got my pencils and my paper. I’m drawing for 10 hours and blocking it all out. That is how I did my last 20 years.” – Dixon
“I have never hit a golf ball. I have never set foot on a golf course. Everything I draw is from inside a 6x10 prison cell.” – Dixon
Dixon began to read the Golf Digest stories, and wrote a letter to Golf Digest’s Max Adler about his story in Attica, and included two drawings with the letter, for consideration for their “Golf Saved My Life,” column. The magazine ran a first-person essay from Dixon in the July 2012 issue, along with an investigative story from Adler on Dixon’s case.
“I had just read Max’s article, and I had to go and take the temperature myself. I just thought it was a really compelling story…Dixon’s entire life is a cinder block cell with bars on one side of it, and there is one thing that occupies him: Getting somebody to listen to his truth.” – Golf Channel/NBC Sports reporter Jimmy Roberts
In 2013, Golf Channel/NBC Sports reporter Jimmy Roberts featured Dixon’s story from Attica. The story included on-camera interviews with not only Dixon, but also LaMarr Scott, who was serving his own sentence in Attica on an unrelated charge. During the course of those interviews with Roberts, Scott claimed he had in fact committed the crime Dixon was convicted of in 1991.
The feature provided renewed awareness of the case to a national television audience, ultimately making its way to Marc Howard and Martin Tankleff.
A professor of government and law at Georgetown University, Howard also is the founding director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, one of the leading voices and advocates for criminal justice and prison reform in the United States. He, along with Tankleff – an adjunct professor at Georgetown who served 18 years in prison before having his own murder conviction overturned – taught a class at Georgetown where students would reinvestigate cases. The students’ assignment was to create a documentary film that would make the case – if they believed it to be true – for a person’s innocence. The students’ film on Dixon’s case – including newly-discovered evidence in addition to the original Golf Digest article and Golf Channel interviews with Dixon and Scott – was presented by Dixon’s attorney to the Erie County District Attorney’s office, along with a motion filed to have Dixon’s conviction vacated.
On Sept. 19, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn consented to an order to vacate the murder, attempted murder and assault convictions against Dixon, and he was released from prison. Five weeks later, Golf Channel cameras traveled with Dixon and his daughter Valentina Dixon – who was four months old when Dixon went to prison – to famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. It was Dixon’s first time ever stepping foot on a golf course, and it also began a new chapter of drawing holes using his own eyesight, instead of sketching them based off pictures from a magazine.
“The hardest thing was watching my kids grow up without me. That was the hardest thing. That was very painful.” – Dixon
27 Years: The Exoneration of Valentino Dixon is produced by Golf Films, a collection of more than 20 award-winning and critically acclaimed projects centering around golf, including Arnie and Jack, three-part films on Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. 27 years is co-directed by James Ponti, an Edgar-award winning mystery author and Ryan Griffiths, who produced Golf Channel’s Emmy-nominated feature on Dixon in 2013. Other award-winning Golf Films projects include the Emmy-nominated Payne on the late Payne Stewart; Go Down Swinging: ’99 Open at Carnoustie, highlighting one of the most unforgettable collapses ever in major championship golf; Summer of ’76, recounting the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale; Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, executive produced by Rickie Fowler; Arnie & Me, a follow-up, fourth installment of Arnie; ’86, a chronicle of Nicklaus’ final major championship win at the 1986 Masters; Ben Crenshaw: A Walk Through Augusta, on the two-time Masters champion’s special relationship with the tournament; Uneven Fairways, recognizing African-American golfers who had the courage to stand up for their rights and pave the way for future generations; and American Triumvirate, a look at the collective contributions of golf legends Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, all born within three months of one another in 1912.