Valentino Dixon was exonerated on Wednesday, September 19th after serving 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Georgetown students Julie Fragonas, Ellie Goonetillake, and Naoya Johnson worked with their professors Marc Howard and Martin Tankleff in a Prison Reform Project course dedicated to re-examining potential wrongful convictions. Their work eventually helped free Dixon.
Dixon was convicted of second-degree murder after a fight broke out at a corner in Buffalo, NY on August 10, 1991 that resulted in the death of 17 year-old Torriano Jackson.
According to the New York Times, Dixon was arrested and sentenced to nearly 40 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole until 2030.
The case didn’t draw national attention until 2012, when a reporter from Golf Digest featured Dixon’s intricate drawings of golf courses. Through sharing his drawings and his story, the holes in the case for Dixon’s conviction came to light.
Georgetown University reports that another man at the crime scene, Lamarr Scott, “confessed to the murder several times” and that “the original prosecutors had never revealed…that a gunpowder test on Dixon’s clothes had come back negative.”
This evidence, compounded by the work of Fragonas, Goonetillake, Johnson and their professors, brought a man to freedom and a family back together again.
Howard and Tankleff expressed the pride they share for their students’ hard work. The case hit close to home for Tankleff who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his parents when he was 18.
“I’ve been in Valentino’s shoes myself, and I know what gives you hope in the darkest moments is knowing that people are fighting for you, to expose the truth and to finally bring about justice,” Tankleff said.
Fragonas, Goonetillake and Johnson all flew in for Dixon’s release, Fragonas from France and Goonetillake from London. They understand the significance of the change they made early in their careers.
“For the rest of my life it will always be a highlight that I helped an innocent person get exonerated and leave prison,” said Fragonas, an exchange student from Bordeaux, France. “I am so grateful to Georgetown for giving a French exchange student this incredible opportunity,” Fragonas said.
For Dixon and his family, a world of opportunities has been opened for them to explore and their gratitude they share for Howard, Tankleff and the students is clear.
“It means everything in the world to me and my family for you to come in out of nowhere and help a total stranger. It’s a very special thing, and I’m so grateful and thankful,” Dixon said.
Dixon plans to spend time with his family and eventually concentrate on criminal justice reform in New York. “I’m going to dedicate my life to fighting mass incarceration,” he said.
Quotes come from a news release by Georgetown University.
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