News 09.23.10

Texas Murder Conviction Thrown Out, Dog-Scent Evidence Ruled Insufficient

Yesterday in Texas, the State Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the murder conviction of Richard Winfrey and rendered an acquittal. Winfrey, who was charged with murdering a man in his Choldspring home in August 2004, was convicted in 2007 almost entirely on the basis of dog scent evidence.  Almost three years after the murder, a dog-scent lineup was performed that connected Winfrey’s scent with articles of clothing worn by the victim.  . According to the Houston Chronicle, the court unanimously ruled that such evidence may only be used in a supporting role and cannot be used by prosecutors as the main justification for a guilty verdict.

Forensic evidence from the scene, including a partial bloody fingerprint, a bloody shoeprint and a DNA profile did not match Winfrey.

Even though prosecutors argued that Winfrey’s statements about stolen items from the victim’s home supported his conviction, the court found that the dog-scent evidence had too much of an impact on the jury’s decision.

Last year, the Innocence Project of Texas wrote a report about dog-scent lineup practice and referred to Pikett’s work as “junk science.” In some cases, Pikett’s dogs linked suspects to crimes for which they would eventually be exonerated of any involvement.  The report’s release prompted Deputy Pikett to resign as a Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy. Texas had been using Pikett in criminal prosecutions for years.

This is the first time the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that dog-scent evidence has limited significance. 

Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, hailed the ruling as a big step toward eliminating dog scent evidence from courtrooms, even if the court did not go that far.

“I think we’ve done a lot of damage — and this case does a lot more damage — to the use of this nonsense in Texas courts,” Blackburn said. “I think this is a real opening. With the Court of Criminal Appeals, you have to measure progress in baby steps. Anyone looking to them for big changes in the criminal justice system is looking in the wrong place. But if you understand that, it’s a real big step forward. At the very least, I think we have effectively put this guy out of business.”


Read the full story here

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Winfrey was represented by Innocence Project of Texas Board Member, Shirley Baccus-Lobel. 


Read the court’s full opinion here

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Read the Innocence Project of Texas’ 2009 dog-scent report here

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