The students’ work dovetailed with Dixon’s preexisting legal motions. They coordinated with Dixon’s main appellate attorney, who filed a motion last spring that drew upon the students’ findings and ultimately proved successful.
According to Howard, the students also uncovered that the original prosecutors had never revealed to Dixon’s defense attorney that a gunpowder test on Dixon’s clotheshad come back negative, a major violation in the original trial.
Howard says this evidence, compounded by the fact that another man, LaMarr Scott, confessed to the murder several times, helped convince current Erie County District Attorney John Flynn to reconsider Dixon’s case.
“Working on the Prison Reform Project has been a life-changing experience,” said Goonetillake of London. “Speaking to Valentino on a weekly basis, establishing a relationship with his familyand being able to interview the prosecutors and defense team for this case has opened my eyes to the impact that students passionate about prison reform can have on the life of a wrongly convicted man.”
Strong Island Films documented the course for a six-episode series called Making An Exoneree.
“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.”
Dixon’s family expressed gratitude for the students’ work.
“If the opportunity comes that you can be a light to someone else, take it,” said his daughter, Tina. “You never know just how much of an impact you can make, and these Georgetown students have made a profound and lasting impact for my father and our family.”
At a public event at Georgetown on April 30, students from Howard and Tankleff’s course unveiled a series of powerful short documentaries telling the stories of four wrongfully convicted men, including Dixon.
Family members, including Tina Dixon, were in the audience as well as close supporters of all four men. Each of the imprisoned spoke to the audience by phone.
Hope in Darkness
“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 in April.
Tankleff, an adjunct professor at both Georgetown and Touro Law Center in New York, was exonerated in the murder of his own parents.
He said he could relate to how Dixon suffered in jail and praised the students’ diligence.
“I’ve been in Valentino’s shoes myself,” he said, “and I know that 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. The Georgetown students did phenomenal work, and their bond with Valentino will never be broken.”