One year ago today,
was exonerated from a Florida prison after serving 27 years for a murder DNA proves he didn’t commit. Dillon was convicted in 1981 based in part on a dog-scent lineup conducted by a now-discredited dog handler.
On August 17, 1981, James Dvorak was found beaten to death in a wooded area near Canova Beach, FL. That same morning a driver picked up a hitchhiker near the beach wearing a bloody yellow T-shirt. Police recovered the T-shirt from a trash can and collected other evidence from the driver's truck.
John Preston, a purported expert in handling scent-tracking dogs, was hired for the investigation. Preston said his dog, “Harrass II,” linked a T-shirt allegedly worn by the perpetrator to the crime scene and to Dillon. Dillon was arrested and charged with the murder. At Dillon’s trial, a former girlfriend claimed to have seen him wearing the blood-stained shirt as he stood over the body and a jailhouse snitch testified that Dillon had confessed to the crime. With this evidence added to the testimony of the dog handler, Dillon was convicted and sentenced to life.
In 2007, after years of attempts at an appeal, Dillon was helped by public defenders and attorneys at the Innocence Project of Florida. Dillon’s advocates obtained access to DNA testing on the bloody shirt, which had been preserved. The results proved Dillon’s innocence and he was freed on November 18, 2008. His exoneration became official when charges were dropped three weeks later, on December 10.
Since Dillon's exoneration the use of dog-scent lineups and scent-tracking dogs to make identifications has come under intense questioning across the country. Two men are suing a Texas deputy because his dogs played a role in their wrongful arrests. Other states are reexamining the practice.
Preston also played a role in the case of Innocence Project client Wilton Dedge, who was exonerated in 2004 after 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Preston’s work was challenged as early as the 1980s when his dog failed an accuracy test conducted by a Brevard County judge. The Arizona Supreme Court later called him a “charlatan.” In 2008, a Brevard County judge said Preston was used by prosecutors “to confirm the state’s preconceived notions.”
Other Anniversaries This Week:
, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 12/7/1995)
, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 12/8/1995)
, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 12/8/2006)
, Georgia (Served 23.5 years, Exonerated 12/8/2005)
, Pennsylvania (Served 21.5 years, Exonerated 12/9/2003)
, Oklahoma (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 12/9/1997)
John Jerome White
, Georgia (Served 22.5 years, Exonerated 12/10/2007)