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Wrongful Convictions, Righteous Redemptions

Valentino Dixon’s world was turned upside down when he was wrongly accused and then convicted of a double homicide after another man confessed to the crime. He was exonerated after spending 27 years behind bars.

Marty Tankleff was wrongly convicted of murdering his wealthy parents and freed on appeal after serving 17 years of a 50-year-to-life sentence. Today he is an attorney working as Special Counsel at Barket, Epstein, Kearon, Aldea & LoTurco.

“We've seen so many innocent people go to prison. And later on, when the facts come out, we discover that the law enforcement had evidence that pointed to someone else, not the person that was convicted,” says Tankleff. Both men are guests on the next of the Phil in the Blanks podcast. Listen and subscribe today:


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  • "27 years. False imprisonment!" Valentino Dixion

  • "That's kind of how they get false confessions. They have you starting to believe their lies." Martin H. Tankleff

  • " Being this innocent kid growing up trusting law enforcement." Martin H. Tankleff

  • "I went in at 21, Dr. Phil and I walked out at 48 years old." Valentino Dixion

  • " They used to call me the black Dr. Phil because I had read over 600 books and everybody came to me for advice." Valentino Dixion

  • "When you get the bad apples, the bad apples refuse to admit that they made a mistake no matter what amount of evidence comes before them." Valentino Dixion

  • "There's this level of protecting their own, protecting their own mistakes. Martin H. Tankleff

  • "The number one tool of the abuser is isolation. I mean, it's clearly abuse." Dr. Phil McGraw

Get Connected & Let Dr. Phil Know What You Thought About The Episode:




Podcast Page: DrPhilintheBlanks


  • Valentino Dixon grew up in downtown Buffalo. As a child, Valentino was a gifted artist who loved to draw. On the night of August 10, 1991, his world was turned upside down as he was wrongly accused of shooting and killing Torriano Jackson at Louie's Texas Red Hots restaurant, in Buffalo, NY. Sentenced to 38 ½ to life in prison. Today Valentino and Marty Tankelff, who is now an attorney, himself was wrongly convicted and served almost 18 years before being exonerated of killing his parents, are joining me today to share their story.

  • At the time of his arrest in 1990, Valentino's daughter, Valentina, was six months old. Although Valentina has lived most of her life without a father present, their bond has remained strong, and during his decades in prison, she became his strongest advocate.

  • On August 10, 1991, a late-night fight broke out at a gathering outside of Louie's Texas Red Hots restaurant at the intersection of East Delevan and Bailey Avenue in Buffalo, NY.

  • In the ensuing mayhem, Torriano Jackson was shot and killed. Based on an anonymous tip, the police arrested Valentino Dixon for his murder and for shooting at three other people.

  • Just two days after Valentino’s arrest, Lamarr Scott confessed to the news media that he had in fact shot and killed Jackson.

  • Despite this confession, Scott was not taken into custody, and detectives continued to pursue Valentino. Prosecutors then built a case against Valentino based on several shaky eyewitnesses (some of whom later recanted and claimed to have been pressured by the police to frame Valentino).

  • At trial, Valentino was convicted and sentenced to 38 1/2 years to life in prison. HIS ART SAVED HIM

  • Valentino struggled to adjust to life in prison until he reconnected with his inner passion for art. He regained his motivation to draw by following his uncle's advice: “if you reclaim your talent, you can reclaim your life.” Valentino has been drawing ever since; for more than two decades, he drew from six to ten hours a day.

  • At one point, the warden at Attica Correctional Facility asked Valentino to draw the 12th hole of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club.

  • Valentino, who had never set foot on a golf course and knew nothing about the sport, started drawing images inspired by photos in the magazine Golf Digest. Eventually, Valentino even drew his own golf creations and said that golf art became his escape from the harsh reality of prison.

  • In 2012, Golf Digest editorial director Max Adler featured Valentino and his stunning artwork in his “golf saved my life” column.

  • Adler also researched Valentino’s case, and came to the conclusion that Valentino was truly innocent of the murder for which he had been wrongfully convicted. The next year, The Golf Channel ran a segment about Valentino’s case as well, gaining him — and his artistic talent — national attention.


  • Despite this attention, and the committed work of pro bono attorneys Donald Thompson and Alan Rosenthal, Valentino’s appeals stalled and his hope fizzled.

  • But in January 2018, Valentino learned that three Georgetown University undergraduate students would re-investigate his case. Their work was for a class was taught by Professors Marc Howard and Marty Tankleff, childhood friends who were separated when Marty himself was wrongly convicted and served almost 18 years before being exonerated.

  • The students — Ellie Goonetillake, Julie Fragonas, and Naoya Johnson — produced a powerful documentary that retraces the incredible twists and turns of the case and shows that Valentino was clearly innocent.

  • They broke new ground not only by interviewing former witnesses but also by filming the original prosecutor, who revealed information critical to Valentino’s final appeal. Their interview of the new District Attorney, John Flynn, ended with a promise by Flynn to conduct a thorough and fair review of the case as part of his new Conviction Integrity Unit.


  • On September 19, 2018 — 27 years after Valentino Dixon’s initial wrongful conviction — Lamarr Scott pleaded guilty to the murder of Torriano Jackson, and Valentino walked out of prison a free man.


  • The mission of the Art of Freedom Foundation is to unite humanity, shine a light on injustice, work with lawmakers to achieve prison and sentencing reform, and champion the voices of the wrongfully convicted until freedom comes.

“It weighs heavily on my mind that we need change in the system, so my mind is not at peace until we get something done.”

– Valentino Dixon

  • The vision of the Art of Freedom Foundation is a dedicated, collective humanitarian effort to achieve a reformed justice system that is equal, fair and just for all. We also envision a world in which every innocent person will be exonerated and immediately released.

“The story of Valentino’s wrongful conviction and exoneration is both outrageous and inspiring. Our criminal justice system failed Valentino, but the perseverance of a golf magazine and three undergraduate students set him free.”

– Marc Howard, Director of Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative

“The system should recognize that the system is not perfect and let’s not let somebody suffer just because we don’t want to admit that one of the players in the system made a mistake.” – Jim Ostrowski, Buffalo attorney who worked alongside Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative fighting for Dixon’s freedom

  • Martin H. Tankleff is an American man who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wealthy parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, on September 7, 1988, when he was 17 years old.

  • After serving more than 17 years of imprisonment, his conviction was vacated and he was released from prison in 2007. He is now an attorney.

September 7, 1988: A Long Island Teenager Discovers His Parents Stabbed and Bludgeoned

  • Marty Tankleff woke up on the first day of his senior year in high school to discover his mother and father brutally stabbed and bludgeoned, his mother—Arlene Tankleff—dead, his father—Seymour Tankleff—unconscious but alive. Marty called 911 and gave first-aid to his father.

The Lead Detective Ignores the Obvious Suspect and Interrogates Marty

  • When the police arrived, Marty immediately identified the likely suspect: his father’s bagel-store partner, who owed his father half a million dollars, had recently violently threatened his parents, and who was the last guest to leave the Tankleff home the night before.

  • A week after the attacks, as Marty’s father lay unconscious in the hospital, the business partner would fake his own death, disguise himself and flee to California under an alias. Despite the business partner’s motive and opportunity, he has never been considered a suspect by Suffolk County authorities to this day. Instead, the lead detective immediately took Marty to the police station and began a hostile interrogation of him that would last for hours.

A Culture of Corruption in Suffolk County Law Enforcement

  • At the time of the Tankleff murders, Suffolk County law enforcement was under investigation for corruption—including problems with coerced confessions—by the State Investigation Commission (SIC) on the order of Governor Mario Cuomo. The SIC’s scathing report included a finding that the detective who would interrogate Marty had perjured himself in a previous murder case.

The Detective Lies and a Traumatized, Disoriented Teenager “Confesses”

  • The hostile interrogation was no match. Marty had been brought up to trust the police and the word of his father, so when the detective faked a phone call and lied to Marty that his father had come to and identified him as the killer, Marty was led to wonder if he could have blacked out. Only then did the detective read Marty his rights and draft a “confession,” which was unsigned and immediately recanted by Marty. Marty’s father died weeks later, without having regained consciousness.

Marty is Convicted and Sentenced to 50-Years-to-Life

  • Even today, with DNA testing having proven that a quarter of wrongful convictions were based on false confessions, intelligent and educated people have difficulty accepting the counterintuitive proposition that someone would confess to a murder they didn’t commit. In 1990, despite not one shred of physical evidence linking Marty to the crime, his “confession” was enough to get him convicted and sentenced to 50-years-to-life. Now 34, Marty will be eligible for parole in 2040.


A Private Investigator Finds New Evidence

  • With the support of two dozen relatives, including the sisters and brother of the murder victims—and with a devoted team of lawyers, an investigator and advocates working pro bono—Marty worked ceaselessly to regain his freedom. In 2001, he convinced a retired New York City homicide detective to conduct a “reinvestigation” into the case.

  • All leads led back to the business partner, whose son, it turns out, sold cocaine out of the bagel stores. The son’s enforcer had bragged over the years about having participated in the Tankleff murders.

  • Through the drug enforcer’s arrest records, the investigator found an accomplice who admitted to having been the getaway driver on the night of the murders.

The New Evidence Hearing

  • Based on the getaway driver’s affidavit and other corroborating new evidence, Marty’s lawyers filed a motion for a new trial, which led to months of evidentiary hearings in a Suffolk County courtroom. As a result of media coverage and further investigation by Marty’s defense team, many new witnesses came forward. By the end of the hearing, over two dozen witnesses would present overwhelming evidence of Marty’s innocence and others’ guilt.

Conflict. Cover-up. Conflict. Conspiracy?

  • The Suffolk County DA refused to recuse himself from the hearing despite extreme conflicts of interest. Five years before the Tankleff murders, he had represented the business partner’s son for selling cocaine out of the bagel store. During the SIC hearings, he represented the detective who would go on to take Marty’s “confession.” And his longtime partner had represented the business partner himself.

  • Among the new evidence revealed at the hearing was eyewitness testimony that the business partner had been well acquainted with the lead detective since before the Tankleff murders. This contradicted the trial testimony of the detective, who had not been in line to catch the case on the morning of the Tankleff murders but arrived 19 minutes after the early morning call, and who ignored the business partner as a suspect.

Out of Suffolk County

  • Throughout the hearing, the DA used every tactic at his disposal, including witness intimidation, to discredit the new evidence and protect the conviction. The Suffolk County judge presiding over the hearing ruled in favor of the DA on every motion, and on St. Patrick’s Day of 2006 denied Marty’s motion for a new trial.


The Appeal

  • Marty appealed his case to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Brooklyn. In a sign of the extraordinary support the case has received, several high profile organizations and individuals submitted amicus briefs, including 31 former prosecutors, Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and more.

  • Millions around the world have seen Marty’s story on “48 Hours” and other shows. Thousands of outraged citizens from Suffolk County, New York State, across the United States and as far away as Australia have visited to voice their support and sign a petition calling on the governor and attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor.

  • Indeed, every impartial observer who has reviewed Marty’s case—including retired judges, law professors, investigative journalists and court officers—agree that Marty deserves a new trial.

Marty’s conviction is Vacated

  • On December 21, 2007, the Appellate Court, Second Department, vacated Marty’s conviction and ordered his case back to Suffolk County for a retrial “to be conducted with all convenient speed.”

  • “It is abhorrent to our sense of justice and fair play to countenance the possibility that someone innocent of a crime may be incarcerated or otherwise punished for a crime which he or she did not commit,” the ruling stated.

New York State Investigation Commission Announces Probe into Suffolk County Law Enforcement’s Conduct in the Tankleff Case Over the Past Two Decades

  • On December 28, 2007, The New York Times broke the news that the New York State Investigation Commission (SIC) has begun an official investigation into Suffolk County law enforcement’s handling of the Tankleff case. The Times reports the investigation began quietly over a year ago, but was kept quiet until now so as not to interfere with Marty’s legal appeal. “The S.I.C. is viewing this as a serious and significant investigation. The commission is looking at how Suffolk County handled this case,” said the Times’s source.

Governor Appoints Attorney General Cuomo as Special Prosecutor

  • On January 12, 2008, Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointed Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as special prosecutor in the Tankleff case. Cuomo pledges to “follow the evidence wherever it leads us.”

Attorney General Cuomo Moves to Dismiss all Charges

  • On June 30, 2008, Attorney General Cuomo’s office announced it would not retry Marty, citing insufficient evidence to prove his guilt.

All Charges Dismissed

  • On July 22, 2008, a State Supreme Court Justice dismissed all charges against Marty Tankleff in the murder of his parents, Arlene and Seymour Tankleff.

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